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Stahlstown walk to benefit Emma Marie Keller Memorial Foundation

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

After their 5-month old daughter died due to complications from preeclampsia, Saltlick's Ryan and Chrissy Keller formed the Emma Marie Keller Memorial Foundation as a way to give back to the community that helped them through that difficult period in their lives.

“We wanted to do something to honor her memory,” Ryan Keller said.

The foundation's primary fundraiser, the Emma Marie Keller Walk, allows the Kellers to support families who encounter unexpected long-term hospital stays as a result of the disorder in which the placenta does not function properly.

The foundation is also dedicated to spreading awareness of preeclampsia and helping other families in similar situations, the Kellers explained recently to members of the Chestnut Ridge Historical Society at the organization's monthly meeting.

Preeclampsia, which occurs in 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies in the United States, is characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation website, and it affects both mother and unborn baby.

When Emma was delivered 12 weeks early, she was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

“Every day was a trip into the city, and not once did I have to worry about money for gas, tolls, bills or food,” Ryan Keller said. “People on this mountain are amazing. Every day we received donations from friends, neighbors and churches ... people we didn't even know.

“We wanted to give back,” he said.

Foundation members regularly prepare and deliver care packages including snacks and toiletry kits containing everyday necessities to Children's Hospital, along with Magee-Women's Hospital of UPMC, UPMC Mercy, Children's Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center and Allegheny Health Network West Penn Hospital.

It also provides gifts cards for gas, groceries or eating on the go to ease financial burdens of long-term illness.

“We just want families to know there is someone thinking about them,” Ryan Keller said.

During the holidays, foundation funds go toward the purchase of gifts for the children and their families, the most special of which is a copy of a child's hand or footprint attached to an inspiring poem for families to take home with them.

“It's so hard to go home and leave your child in the NICU,” Ryan Keller said. “We want the families to have this tangible thing to hold, to make it a little easier.”

The seventh annual Emma Marie Keller Walk is slated for Aug. 23 at the Cook Township Community Center in Stahlstown.

Registration will begin at 9 a.m. with a three-mile walk following at 10 a.m.

The event will include breakfast and lunch and will feature family-friendly activities throughout the day.

Face painting, a DJ, character drawings, a Chinese Auction and visits from local firefighters are scheduled.

The afternoon will conclude with a balloon release.

Keller said people do not have to walk to participate, but are welcome to simply come enjoy the event, which is expected to draw more than 100 participants.

Pre-registration will cost $25. It includes a T-shirt to wear at the walk. Those interested can sign up on the foundation's website — emkmemorial.blogspot.com.

The site also contains information about other ways to help, such as how to donate items to be auctioned off or how to help sponsor the event.

“The walk is a really nice way for us to remember Emma,” said Chrissy Keller, who added that it was important to her for the event to be held near Emma's Aug. 22 birthday.

The Kellers said support from family, friends and the community has been amazing — both during that trying time in their lives and now.

They credit God, their church and the support of their loved ones and the community for the success of the foundation.

“We have an amazing group of people that help us every year,” Ryan Keller said. “We wouldn't have gotten this far without them.”

Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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