Posted on Wed, Jan. 08, 2003

Kids inspired to aid ailing Saratoga girl


By Linda Goldston

Mercury News

When students at San Jose's Easterbrook Elementary School raised money for cancer research last year, they knew they were doing a good thing.

But when they started ``Coins for Kaitlyn'' to help an 8-year-old Saratoga girl, the students responded as never before. They raised $1,400 in a week, some of them donating pennies or lunch money, some bringing in checks from parents and relatives.

``The interest was huge right away with Kaitlyn. They could really identify with her,'' said Laura Wright, a teacher at the West San Jose school. ``I would have kids in here every day saying, `What can I do?' ''

Since the Mercury News first wrote about Kaitlyn Langstaff's struggle against a rare disease that has left her unable to see, speak or eat regular food, hundreds of people, many of them children, have sent her cards, drawings and letters. And those who could sent money.

One school held ``Cookies for Kaitlyn'' fundraisers one day a week. Another sold doughnuts. And one teacher -- Denise Derby, who teaches math at Willow Glen Middle School -- more than matched the $285 in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters that her students raised in five days. Derby sent the Langstaff family a check for $600.

These efforts have brought smiles and sometimes tears to the Langstaffs.

Kaitlyn suffers from toxic epidermal necrolysis, a severe form of Stevens Johnson syndrome. The disease, which initially causes blisters and lesions throughout the body that resemble second-degree burns, struck her suddenly in April. Doctors think it was an extreme allergic reaction that Kaitlyn had to flu medication. Close to death at times, she spent 110 days in four different hospitals.

Her family was already struggling when Kaitlyn became sick. Both of her parents -- her mother, Kerry; her father, Brad -- had been laid off from their Silicon Valley marketing jobs the summer before, and neither has found new work.

The theme of the ``Coins for Kaitlyn'' fundraiser at Easterbrook school was ``every little bit helps.''

``It doesn't matter how much you give,'' said Derek Booth, 10, a fifth-grader at Easterbrook. ``We wanted to help Kaitlyn and her family.''