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Toy Train Program Cheers Up Sick Kids
Traci Taylor died 12 years ago after a 13-year battle with leukemia. But her compassionate spirit lives on through the Toy Train program she conceived to provide stuffed animals, toys, games and books to cheer up children in Southeast Hospital's Pediatrics Unit.
Her parents, Pat and Donna Taylor of Cape Girardeau, continue to carry on her legacy, visiting the Pediatrics Unit at least once a week to push the wooden Toy Train cart from room to room, handing out toys and other items to sick children. Nurses on the Pediatrics Unit handle the duties at other times.
Diagnosed with leukemia at age 6 when the family lived in the Dallas, Texas, area, Traci spent much of her life in and out of hospitals receiving treatments, including full-body radiation. She died on Feb. 13, 2000 at Southeast Hospital at the age of 19.
"Her dying wish was for us to continue it," Pat says of the bright red Toy Train cart that he helped craft 20 years ago. Donna adds, "She was always thinking of other kids."
Traci came up with the idea of the Toy Train in 1992 after spending time in Southeast Hospital as a patient. When her health allowed, Traci handed out the toys herself.
In 1993, Traci received one of 50 Real Hero awards given by Maxwell House. Former First Lady Barbara Bush presented Traci with the award at a ceremony in Washington. In 1996, Traci was one of the Missouri winners of Prudential's Spirit of Community award.
But Pat says his daughter never sought the lime light. "She was really low key. If she had a million dollars, she would give most of it away and wouldn't want anybody to know about it," he explains.
Initially, the Taylors financed the Toy Train program themselves. They secured donations and spent their own money buying stuffed animals and toys to hand out.
In 1996, the SoutheastHEALTH Foundation reached out to the Taylors, agreeing to provide the annual funding to keep the Toy Train supplied with stuffed animals, toys and games. "I do all the shopping," says Donna who looks for store bargains throughout the year.
Donna says the stuffed animals are a hit with sick kids. "The stuffed animals are wonderful because it gives them something to hug on," she notes. Other favorites are Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels.
Mary Burton-Hitt, Foundation executive director, says Traci was an inspiration to others. "Traci did not say, 'Why me?' but rather used her life to create comfort and show concern for other children who have experienced serious health problems." Traci's Toy Train, she says, still brings "smiles and love" to sick children at Southeast.