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Rostraver Township woman's bucket list formed with her children in mind

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 2:06 a.m.
Kate Crawford reads to her chidlren, Stephen Jr., 3, and twins Gracie and Lillie, 4, in the family's Rostraver Township home. The founder of Project Sweat Pea has taken  a leave from the organization as she battles cancer.
Kate Crawford reads to her chidlren, Stephen Jr., 3, and twins Gracie and Lillie, 4, in the family's Rostraver Township home. The founder of Project Sweat Pea has taken a leave from the organization as she battles cancer.

Watching newborn children in the pods at a neonatal intensive care unit, Kate Crawford was touched by their innocence amidst a struggle to survive.

“We felt they looked like little peas in a pod,” Crawford said.

One of those sweet peas was her daughter, Shannon, who was born Jan. 16, 2007, with heart and diaphragm defects that took her life three days later.

Moved by grief and a desire to help other mothers facing similar situations, the Rostraver Township mother co-founded Project Sweet Peas.

The national organization helps parents with children in neonatal intensive care units.

The organization provides wellness items for the parents as well as baby blankets, hats, booties and specialized care packages like little Halloween costumes, bracelets for Mother's Day and stockings for Christmas.

The organization works with hospitals that operate neonatal intensive care units.

In 2009, Crawford gave birth to twins, Gracie and Lillie – who arrived six weeks early.

Her son, Stephen Jr., was born eight weeks premature. Now 3, he has faced a host of developmental issues. He receives speech therapy five times a week and physical therapy twice a week.

Stephen has the expressiveness of an 18-month-old child, which is a great improvement.

But Crawford has voluntarily “stepped back” from the organization and taken a “medical leave while I'm going through everything.”

The board of directors of the nationwide organization will take over her duties, for now.

Crawford was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer on Jan. 25, her husband Stephen's birthday. Two weeks later – just two days shy of her 29th birthday – she learned the cancer had advanced to stage IV.

Crawford found a mass in her breast in August, but her son soon was admitted to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and ended up undergoing six weeks of physical therapy.

“There was no way for me to get to a doctor, and that's why it advanced,” Crawford said of her cancer.

Crawford's cancer is aggressive and has spread – to both breasts, right shoulder, right ribs, thoracic spine, pelvis and liver.

Doctors have given her a less than a 30 percent chance of living five years.

In the wake of that, Crawford has created a “bucket list” – group of things to experience – although she admits it's as much for her children as for herself.

“There's so much more I wanted to do with them, and I wanted to keep track,” Crawford said. “Say that list never gets completed; they will know the things I wanted to do with them and have a scrapbook of those memories.”

Another helper

Jamie Holmes formed Jamie's Dream Team in 2005 to “provide dreams for terminally ill or seriously injured” people.

The organization has made more than 500 dreams come true.

Holmes was inspired to form the team after her battle with VATER syndrome – characterized by congenital abnormalities of the vertebrae, lower intestine, trachea, esophagus and kidneys – which has required her to undergo dozens of major surgical procedures.

“My passion and mission in life is to help other people,” the White Oak woman said.

“We were working on a few dreams in Westmoreland County, and one of our volunteers (said), ‘There's this wonderful woman, Kate, who has her mommy's bucket list.'”

Crawford said Holmes “just started marking things off my list.”

Crawford wanted to see her three children go to the prom. Holmes helped arrange for the toddlers to participate in a promenade, complete with a tuxedo for Stephen and prom dresses for the girls.

“On Saturday, we went to a Pirate game,” Crawford explained as her daughters pranced across the living room floor wearing Cutch's Crew Bucco T-shirts.

Jamie's Dream Team bought the children “big kid bicycles,” Crawford said.

“She's giving a graduation party for them, because I don't know if I'll be around to see them graduate,” Crawford said.

The graduation party will be July 6 at Round Hill Park in Elizabeth Township.

“I feel a connection to Kate,” Holmes said. “I saw that list and said, ‘I can have fun checking off a bunch of these.

“I'd really like to get as many donors as possible to send her to Disney.”

The bucket list contained 63 items – everything from camping trips and visits to Washington, D.C., and Salem, Mass., in October to simpler things like a swing set in the back yard, a pet dog, or watching the sun rise with her husband.

“We're such a young family,” Crawford said. “We have so much left that we have to do in a short span.”

Living on faith

“Faith – that's all I have,” Crawford said. “God is working miracles through me. Even if he does not heal me, His grace is working through me.

“People say, ‘How are you smiling now?' They don't realize it's because people are blessing us every day.”

Holmes said there has been an outpouring of support for Crawford.

“People are coming forward, because they remember Kate from when she helped them, and they now want to help her,” Holmes said. “I hope that when I make an impact, I hope I make as much of an impact as she has.”

Holmes is seeking donations and volunteers to help make Crawford's dreams a reality.

A “Crawford's Rocking Cancer” benefit dinner and dance will take place 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday at the Rostraver Central Fire Department social hall.

Crawford has tried to put it all into perspective.

“The best-case scenario is that it all gets done,” Crawford said. “My main goal for it was for the kids.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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