Jeffrey Virostek only lived for four years; but in that time, he brought joy and love to all who knew him. And even though he's gone, he continues to impact people's lives through a memorial race held each year in his honor.
As always, it's on Mother's Day, and the fourth annual Angel Kisses 5K run and 2K walk will be held Sunday, May 13, at 8 a.m., in Chantilly's Poplar Tree Estates community.
"OUR GOAL is to bring more awareness to the event and to help other families going through the journey of cancer," said Jeffrey's mother, Tasha Virostek. "And it's been a privilege to work with the volunteers who put on this race."
The event begins and ends at the Poplar Tree Estates Swim and Racquet Club, 13516 Point Pleasant Drive. For more information and to register, see www.AngelKisses-5k.org. Registration is: 5K, $18; 2K, $13, by May 9. Walk-in and race-day registration is $25 and $20.
Proceeds go to the Jeffrey Virostek Memorial Fund to aid other families battling cancer. Anyone unable to participate, but wishing to make a donation, may send a contribution payable to Angel Kisses 5K to 13445 Marble Rock Drive, Chantilly, VA 20151.
Tasha and Stephen Virostek, both 39, live in Poplar Tree Estates with daughters Meghan, 10 1/2, a fifth-grader at Poplar Tree Elementary; Angela, 12 1/2, a seventh-grader at Rocky Run Middle, plus son Luke, 19 months.
But before there was Luke, there was Jeffrey, who died of acute myelogenous leukemia [AML], in September 2003, at age 4. And he's still a big part of his family's lives.
His mother described him as a "sweet and gentle-hearted" little boy who delighted in each day and looked up to his two, big sisters. But in October 2001, he developed several bruises that wouldn'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, Jeffrey 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 eventually succumbed to this rare and difficult-to-treat type of leukemia.
Since the Virosteks know firsthand what families go through when their children have cancer, they want to give them the same strength and support they received from their own community when Jeffrey was so ill.
"So far, we've been able to raise $40,000 for the memorial fund — which, in turn, goes to various organizations that help families who are fighting cancer," said Tasha Virostek. These include Life with Cancer — Inova Health System's nonprofit program for cancer patients and their families — and the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation. This group provides information and awareness of cancer, advocates for children's needs and supports research.
Money is also contributed to other programs that help families with all the social and emotional aspects along the way. Some goes to Special Love, a camp for children with cancer; some pays for transportation to and from doctors' appointments and hospitals.
Funds go to the Big Apple Clown Ministry which provides clowns to cheer up children in hospitals. And money is also given to Colors of Love, which paints children's hospital rooms to make them more cheerful.
THE 2006 Angel Kisses 5K drew nearly 500 participants and raised more than $15,000 from the race itself and its sponsors. Virostek hopes to eclipse those two figures, this time around, and her whole family will help; Angela will run the 5K, and her parents and siblings will walk in the 2K.
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."
The event's name came from Tasha Virostek. "I was looking for a name for Jeffrey's memorial fund," she explained. "And when he passed away, I looked down at him and thought, 'He's a little angel sending us kisses.'"
It costs $250 to be a sponsor, and this year's race has 33 — not including those who've contributed in-kind services. So far, the top three sponsors are Luck Stone Corp, Dominion Virginia Power and Jeffrey's paternal grandparents, Agnes and Ron Virostek of Easton, Md.
Rickard says Angel Kisses is also special because of everybody involved in it. When asked what keeps her helping to pull it together every year, she said it's because of "all the volunteers that come together and where the funds go."
In addition, said Rickard, "It allows people to do something good and to feel good about themselves. And they have the opportunity to give back — especially on Mother's Day."
The event also helps keep Jeffrey's memory alive, and his mom considers Mother's Day the perfect day to celebrate his life — the way the family does at home, anyway.
"We have someone new, Luke, to educate about Jeffrey," she said. "So Jeffrey continues to be in our daily conversations, thoughts and prayers and is an integral part of a lot of people's lives."
As part of the healing process, said Virostek, "It's important to remain focused on where we've been and where we're going, and [this race] helps us help families to fight this terrible disease. In his short 4 1/2 years, Jeffrey touched a lot of people's lives, and our philosophy is 'Pay it forward.'"