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Angel Kisses 5K/2K in Jeffrey's Memory

Chantilly's Tasha Virostek will celebrate Mother's Day with her husband and two young daughters. But an important member of the family won't be there — son Jeffrey who died of acute myelogenous leukemia [AML], Sept. 25, 2003, at age 4.

So in his memory, the family will host the second annual Angel Kisses 5K run and 2K walk, on Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8. They chose that day particularly so families could do something together before taking mom out to brunch.

"We're doing it in hopes of bringing awareness to the disease and to help other families fighting this devastating diagnosis," said Virostek. As for her own family, she said, "We're hanging in there."

The event begins at 8 a.m. at the Poplar Tree Estates swimming pool at Point Pleasant Drive in Chantilly. Registration is 5K, $18; 2K, $13, by Sunday, May 1. From then until May 7, it's $20 and $15. There's NO race-day registration. Register at www.angelkisses-5k.org. And children and strollers are welcome.

JEFFREY'S PARENTS also established the Jeffrey Virostek Memorial Fund in his honor, and proceeds from the Angel Kisses event will go into it to aid other families battling cancer. Anyone unable to participate, but wishing to make a donation to the fund, may send a contribution payable to Angel Kisses 5K to 13445 Marble Rock Drive, Chantilly, VA 20151.

Tasha and Stephen Virostek, both 37, live in Poplar Tree Estates with daughters Meghan, 8 1/2, and Angela, 10 1/2, in third and fifth grades, respectively, at Poplar Tree Elementary. "Jeffrey would have started kindergarten this year," said his mother. "The first day of school was difficult for everyone."

All was well until October 2001 when Jeffrey developed lots of bruises that didn't heal, plus tiny red dots under his skin. A pediatric oncologist diagnosed him with AML, and he received treatment at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C.

In March 2002, he received a bone-marrow transplant from Meghan, then 5. And with chemotherapy, he had a 50-percent chance of remission. He was in good spirits and fought bravely, but ultimately he was no match for this rare and difficult-to-treat type of leukemia.

Now, said Tasha Virostek, "We all have our moments where we're up and down. But Jeffrey's a topic of conversation in our house — his likes, dislikes, etc. And by keeping his memory alive, our daughters have coped — as much as two young girls can cope."

"Holidays and birthdays are difficult — as well as days when you wake up and realize he's not there," she continued. "But as long as we keep talking about him, he still remains a part of our daily lives and we keep moving forward. He was a sweet and gentle-hearted 4-year-old who inspired others to love, laugh and live life to the fullest."

The idea for the race came from family friend and neighbor, Tracy Rickard, who'd met the Virosteks when her daughter started school and began playing with Meghan and Angela. Remembering how Jeffrey liked it when she played Tickle Monster with him and he ran back and forth, Rickard said, "I thought we could hold a race in his name. There are lots of runners in our neighborhood, and I figured it would be something kids could be involved in, too."

JEFFREY'S MOTHER named the event. "I was looking for a name for his memorial fund," she explained. "And when he passed away, I looked down at him and thought, 'He's a little angel sending us kisses.'"

Last year's Angel Kisses 5K attracted 675 participants and raised more than $15,000. And, said Tasha Virostek, "We're hoping to have 750 participants this year and to raise as much as last year's total, or even exceed it."

They've already almost doubled their sponsors. "We had 23 sponsors last year, and we're up to 41 this year," said Rickard. "Dominion Virginia Power, our top sponsor, contributed $1,000. It's a great event — very family oriented."

Also this year, to promote the race and raise enthusiasm, the Virosteks held some ice-cream socials at the Ben & Jerry's in Fairfax Corner. The events were on April 11 and April 21, and Ben & Jerry's gave a portion of those days' proceeds to the fund.

The store Five Below in the Greenbriar Town Center also gave a percentage of its sales, April 9 between certain hours, to the fund. And this Saturday, April 30, at 6 p.m. at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, race drivers there will pass their helmets among the crowd, and whatever is collected will go toward Angel Kisses. For more information, see www.olddominionspeedway.com.

Jeffrey's medical care was top-notch and his family had good health-care coverage. "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," said his father, Stephen Virostek. "This [money from the memorial fund] would help them a little."