Neither prayers nor top-flight medical care could save their own son in his battle against cancer, but Tasha and Stephen Virostek of Chantilly hope a fund-raiser in his memory will help other families waging similar fights.
Jeffrey Virostek died of acute myelogenous leukemia [AML], Sept. 25, 2003 at age 4. And to honor this brave child and others like him, the first annual Angel Kisses 5K run and 2K walk will be held Sunday, May 9, at 8 a.m.
IT STARTS at the Poplar Tree Estates swimming pool at Point Pleasant Drive in Chantilly. Registration is 5K, $18; 2K, $13, by Saturday, May 1. From then until May 8, it's $20 and $15. There's NO race-day registration. Enter at www.angelkisses-5k.org.
The Virosteks, both 36, live in that community with daughters Meghan, 7 1/2, and Angela, 9 1/2, in second and fourth grades, respectively, at Poplar Tree Elementary.
The family first noticed something wrong with Jeffrey in October 2001, when he developed lots of bruises that didn't heal, plus tiny red dots under his skin. A pediatric oncologist diagnosed him with AML, and he was treated at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C.
In March 2002, he received a bone-marrow transplant from Meghan, then 5. With chemotherapy, he had a 50-percent chance of remission. He was a real trooper and, said his mother then, "He brings sunshine everywhere he goes."
Unfortunately, though, the leukemia won out. "It was very tragic," said his father. "Hopefully, someday, they'll find a cure for this terrible disease. His type was very rare and the most difficult to treat."
Jeffrey's parents later established the Jeffrey Virostek Memorial Fund in his honor and to help other families fighting cancer; proceeds from Angel Kisses will go into the fund.
"We were fortunate to have good support and good health-care coverage," said Stephen Virostek. "We had access to the best medical care in the D.C. area, and people to watch our other children for us when we were at the hospital. But people come to Children's Hospital from all over the U.S., and many of them don't have the resources that we have. This [money] would help them a little."
The Virosteks chose Mother's Day, particularly, as the date of the event. "We thought Mother's Day would be a wonderful day for everyone to come out and get their exercise, prior to taking their mother to brunch," explained Stephen. And, of course, children and strollers are welcome.
DURING THE Virosteks' long ordeal and after, the Poplar Tree Estates neighborhood has been there to offer them support, and response to the upcoming fund-raiser has been equally strong.
As of Tuesday, 202 people had registered. Angel Kisses organizer Tracy Rickert is delighted and still expects lots more to sign up. "Our goal was 250 people, so I think we'll surpass it," she said. "I'm really excited."
"The response of the neighborhood has been strong, because they can relate to the story of a sick child," said Virostek. Anyone who can't participate, but wishes to make a donation to the fund, may send a contribution payable to Angel Kisses 5K to 13445 Marble Rock Drive, Chantilly, VA 20151.
Jeffery's mother explained how the event got its name. "I was looking for a name for his memorial fund," she said. "And when he passed away, I looked down at him and thought, 'He's a little angel sending us kisses' — and he continues to send us angel kisses. He was a remarkable little boy."
She said the family has its good days and bad days, but tries to focus on the positive. She, too, said the community has been truly wonderful. "Between all the meals, this event and masses that were said for Jeffrey, the community has really rallied around us and helped us through it," said Tasha Virostek.
As for her daughters, she said they have a lot of special memories about their brother and the family talks about him constantly. "That's helped a lot," she said. "They're very secure, and he will always be a part of our lives. For example, VDOT is very strict about its routes for races, but we didn't have any difficulty getting the route accepted [for Angel Kisses], so we feel that Jeffrey is helping to orchestrate this."
Actually, she said, it was Rickert's idea for the race. A family friend and neighbor, she met the Virosteks when her daughter started attending school and playing with Meghan and Angela. And seeing how the neighborhood came together during Jeffrey's illness, said Rickert, "I thought there must be something else we can do."
Last August, she was playing with Jeffrey at a swimming banquet at Franklin Middle School. "We were playing Tickle Monster in the hallways, running back and forth, and he enjoyed it," she said. "I thought we could hold a race in his name."
INITIALLY, THE purpose was to raise awareness of his disease, and she hoped he'd be there for the event. "I started running, a little over a year ago, and had been in a couple races," said Rickert. "There are lots of runners in our neighborhood, and I figured it would be something kids could be involved in, too."
She approached the family about it, in early September, to get their blessing to move forward, and Jeffrey's mom chose Mother's Day as the date of the race. Rickert wants to raise at least $5,000, so she's hoping for a good turnout.
"Jeffrey loved to run and was full of life," said Tasha Virostek. "This will be a family-friendly event and something fun to do. And it shows the community's respect, admiration and love for Jeffrey and for our family. It's very inspiring, and it helps us put one foot in front of the other and get through another day."