Joey Keller was born on July 4, 2003 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Little Joey entered the world around 9 pm, in the middle of a torrential downpour and huge booms of thunder. To his parents, this was a true miracle for they were told they would not be able to have children. Thus, Joey was a miracle from the get-go.
In the Fall of 2010, Joey was enjoying a normal childhood, busy with and excelling in school work and sports (especially swimming), and spending time with family and friends, when he began to have severe nausea in the mornings and after playing outside. After weeks of struggling and multiple doctors and tests, on November 21, a CT scan finally revealed a golf ball-sized tumor in the posterior fossa (back) of Joey's brain. He was rushed to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and radiation was started immediately.
The lab tests after the tumor resection confirmed that Joey had medulloblastoma, a very hard to treat and aggressive type of pediatric cancer. Joey was already at stage 4 with dissemination down his spine. If they didn't start treatment immediately, he would be in a coma within days. Joey came through the surgery with flying colors, actually asking the surgeon (while his head was still fixed to the operating table and they were closing the incision) "is the surgery over yet?" It took a couple of weeks for him to leave the hospital, but they used an ambulance to transport him for daily emergent radiation treatments. Eventually his energy, sight and strength improved, allowing his amazing personality to again shine.
Growing up, Joey was always focused on others. When his friends would come over to play at his house, he would offer his toys, food, or money to them, if he felt he had more than they did. At his soccer games, as soon as a teammate seemed upset or got hurt, Joey because focused on trying to help him feel better. At times, this forced the coach to put in another player because Joey didn't ask permission; he just went with the hurt player or stayed with a player on the sidelines who was upset because he missed a goal.
One of Joey's parents' favorite pictures of him, from a vacation, is of him with his hand on his cousin's shoulder at a putt-putt course, comforting him after a tough round. He seemed to always gravitate to hurting people and to do whatever it took to make them feel better.
During Joey's long months of chemotherapy, radiation and hospital stays, there was no shortage of hurting people. Joey had strong faith in God and he was always talking with and praying for these hurting kids and their families. Once, a boy and his family down the hall had received really bad news, and Joey could hear the boy crying. He immediately asked his dad to drive home and get a big Star Wars toy set that Joey had saved so he could give it to the boy in an effort to cheer him up. On another occasion, when friends came to visit Joey at his house, he found out that the boy his age was really into a certain kind of toy that Joey had; when the boy mentioned that he didn't have any of that particular set, Joey gave him what he had. His parents felt that, for an 8 years old going through seemingly endless chemo, nausea, and physical therapy to learn to walk again, this was remarkable. It seemed that Joey had figured out, at his young age, that giving was truly more fun than receiving.
In the Fall of 2011, Joey relapsed and began chemotherapy for recurrent disease. Those treatments only provided a temporary slowing of the tumors' growth and he soon began to lose control of his facial muscles. His family and medical team decided to repeat radiation so he could continue to eat, talk and show the world that wonderful smile that could light up a room. In late September 2012, Joey began having seizures, and the cancer progressed to a place where medicine had nothing left to offer. He slowly lost the ability to walk, to eat, to communicate, to remember the toys he loved, to recognize his parents and, on November 18, 2012, to breathe.
We, Joey's grandparents, established Joey's Fund to support vital, innovative childhood cancer research that will ensure other children don't have to endure what our grandson did.