As a mother of a premature baby, Amy Brocka of Tripola, Iowa, says she knew that she wanted to give her $1,000 to help a family that was also struggling through difficulties with an infant. That's when Amy read a story in the local paper about a little baby named Kylie.
When Kylie was born on January 18, 2006, doctor's diagnosed her with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a condition where the left side of the heart is underdeveloped. In order to try and save her life, doctors performed open heart surgery when Kylie was just six days old.
After many hours of surgery, doctors were able to take Kylie off the bypass machines— and she made it through the first 48 hours with no complications. After a month, doctors even thought they would be able to take her off the breathing vent. In March, just shy of two months later, doctors said the heart was working as it should be. Sadly, it didn't last.
In April, doctors noticed that Kylie's pulmonary veins and arteries weren't growing. Doctors had to go in and put in a bigger shunt to get her blood flowing so the arteries and veins could grow.
Despite infections, fevers and other issues, the family had great hope. Kylie went from feeding tubes to IVs to baby formula, and was gaining weight. But, her progress was fleeting. In June, Kylie needed surgery on the muscles around her diaphragm to help her breath, and had to be placed back on feeding tubes. That's when her parents, Mandy and Darryl, were given the devastating news. Doctors said she probably wouldn't live to her first birthday.
Kylie died in her parents' arms on August 13, after 207 days of life. She never left the hospital.
To help the family with bills, food or whatever they need, Amy gave them her $1,000. "I don't know what to say," Darryl says. "This is so unexpected."
With her money, Cindy Braatz, from Waterloo, Iowa, decided to help a family that has also faced a horrible tragedy. In April of 2001, Liz's 15-month-old daughter, Emily, was allegedly suffocated by Liz's then boyfriend.
Since that horrible day, Liz has given birth to two sets of twin girls. Summer and Sam are 3 1/2 years old, and Autumn and Addison are just 4 weeks old! Liz's fiancé, Blaine, also has two boys.
Using Blaine as her "inside man," Cindy finds out Liz is in need of a dryer and dishwasher—so Cindy arrives at the house with delivery trucks in tow. She also buys the family a new TV/DVD player and movies for the kids. Cindy brings diapers and baby wipes for the newborns as well. But that's not all! Cindy gives Liz a gift certificate for spa treatments so she can take some time for herself.
"It was a very emotional experience for me," Cindy says. "I think Liz … and the family were quite overwhelmed."
To fulfill her challenge, Rita Anno, of Cincinnati, Ohio, went online to try and find the perfect recipient—and did she ever! After searching www.craiglist.org, Rita found a posting by a woman named Cindy who was in desperate need of a bedside hospital table.
In May 2006, while planning her wedding, 36-year-old Cindy was diagnosed with breast and liver cancer. After months of treatment—and her September wedding— Cindy had to have a double mastectomy and 1/6 of her liver removed. "She's getting a little bit better each day," says her new husband, Brent.
Thanks to Kunkel Pharmacy, who generously donated the table, Rita is also able to give Cindy and Brent some "fun money" for when she is feeling better. Watch as Rita describes her plan for Cindy to continue the Pay It Forward Challenge.
"I just want everyone to know you don't have to be in your 40s, you don't have to be in your 50s—you can be very young and get breast cancer as I'm living proof," Cindy says. "And for as hard as I thought that it might be going into it, it's been harder. This is just an emotional time for me, so I appreciate some brightness coming into my day."
St. Clair High School teacher Dorothy Derrow has enlisted the help of students to make her Pay It Forward Challenge a reality. Their plan is to hold a "coffee house" benefit to raise funds to help a family with a daughter suffering from a rare form of cancer.
Maddie Trudel has been suffering from Ewing's sarcoma bone cancer for over a year. She has been through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, surgery to remove a tumor from her ribs, and a stem cell transplant. After all these treatments, 7-year-old Maddie went into remission—but it was short lived. A few months later, Maddie came down with what they thought was a virus. Tragically, what looked like pneumonia turned out to be compacted tumors in her right lung, right kidney and 3/4 of her liver. The cancer was back with a vengeance.
Doctors started treating her with radiation, which ended up providing some relief—however, the tumors continued to grow. The cancer metastasized in her spine and she now faces paralysis from the ribs down. "She doesn't want to die. She wants to be a teenager," says her dad, Paul. Unfortunately, doctors don't believe Maddie will make it to Christmas. Watch as Paul speaks to the students about his daughter.
"Everybody's living a normal life, everything's good and the next thing you know, you get cancer," Paul says.
With donations from businesses throughout the community, funds raised from the coffee house and raffle, spirit boxes, and additional money raised by the local elementary and middle schools, the students at St. Clair raised over $13,000! The money will help pay for Maddie's medical bills.
"People always say, 'Don't take life for granted you never know, blah, blah, blah,'" says one student. "But it didn't really hit until [Maddie's dad] told us all Maddie wanted was to be 16 years old. I mean, I just flew through my 16th birthday like it was another day. … I haven't even met her [Maddie] and I feel like I know her. She's the bravest little girl ever. She's younger than me and she's someone I look up to."
When Oprah challenged audience members to her Pay It Forward Challenge, Tracie Elias, from Streeter, Illinois, knew exactly what she wanted to do. First, Tracie took Kathy, a mom with two young boys, on a $500 shopping spree to buy the boys clothes—she also helped Kathy shop for Christmas presents. But that wasn't all! The manager of the local Wal-Mart donated two brand-new bikes and a cart full of groceries to the family! To help them remember the experience, Tracie made the family a scrapbook and framed family photo from their big day.
For the second half of her money, Tracie had her work cut out for her. In 2005, Tracie was driving her son to school when she saw a little girl trying to ride her bike in the snow. Behind the little girl was a woman carrying a little baby. Tracie, figuring the girl was on her way to school, pulled over and offered them a ride.
At first, the woman was hesitant, but after talking to Tracie, she accepted the help. It turns out that the little girl had missed the bus, so her mom was walking a mile in the snow to make sure she made it to school.
After that day, Tracie says the she gave herself a pat on the back for helping a stranger, but realized that the woman she remembered as being named "Pearl" was the true inspiration. "Most people would have stayed home and not made the effort," Tracie says. "What an inspiration as a mother to make the effort to make sure she got her daughter to school. That school was that important."
After that cold winter day, Tracie never saw "Pearl" and her children again—but, when she received her Pay It Forward Challenge, she couldn't think of anyone more deserving. So, Tracie began the search of her life!
All Tracie could remember from her conversation with "Pearl" was that she worked in a nursing home. She could also remember what she looked like, and that her daughter was in first grade at her son's school—but she couldn't remember her name. So, the first thing Tracie did was call the nursing home where she thought she might work. Unfortunately, no one by that name worked there.
After days of searching and hitting nothing but dead ends, she thought all hope was lost. Her friends even suggested she find another family to help, but Tracie refused to give up.
After days of stress and frustration, Tracie finally got a break. Through the school, Tracie found out that "Pearl's" daughter's name was Alexis, and that her mother's real name was Shalondra. After a few more phone calls, she found out that Shalondra—known as Shell—did indeed work at the local nursing home!
After a week of searching, Tracie arrived at the nursing home to surprise Shell! With flowers in hand, the pair were finally reunited. "I'm just speechless right now," Shell says.
As a thank you for being such and inspiration, Tracie took Shell, and her daughter Alexis, for a special spa and shopping day! Tracie arrived at their home with tiaras and princess wands in hand, and whisked the girls off to Sheer Illusions Salon. Both Shell and Alexis were treated like queens! While mom was getting a mani and pedi, Alexis got her hair done. "This woman who's doing my feet, she's got to be a brave soul," Shell says. Watch as Shell and Alexis get the royal treatment.
As a special surprise, the staff at Sheer Illusions donated all the spa treatments! Next up, Tracie treated the girls to lunch and then they went on a $500 shopping spree for new clothes.
"This whole experience has kind of restored my faith in people," Shell says. "There are still good people out there. And I'm glad somebody came along to remind me of that."
Stay-at-home mom Julie Shipp of Louisville, Kentucky, teamed up with Z Salon and Spa to make over 12 men living in a homeless shelter. "Together we are going to get these men haircuts and shaves and showers," Julie says.
When they arrive at the spa, the men are treated like kings! "It's an experience I've never felt before," says one recipient. "I had a haircut done, a facial, manicure and a nice massage." Watch the transformations take place.
When they're finished with their treatments, the men receive a backpack, a grooming kit and a brand new outfit. Julie's hope is that they will be inspired—and that their brand new look will help them on their search for new jobs.
It's one of Oprah's favorite movements, and what she'll be giving her friends this holiday season! In October 2006, Bono launched the (RED)... campaign
. By purchasing special (RED) items from the Gap, Motorola, Apple and Armani, part of the proceeds will be donated to saving lives in Africa.
For their part, family members Michelle, Norma and Donna use their combined $3,000 to buy (RED) clothes from the Gap. All their purchases are donated to the needy in the Dallas area. Watch this family go "red!"
"That way, we are helping people globally and locally," Donna says.
Sisters Tara Barr and Scarlett Wilson from Hemingway, South Carolina, knew exactly who they wanted to honor with their money. "There is somebody who is very special to us, very dear to us, who we have great love for," Tara says.
When they were children, Tara and Scarlett's housekeeper, Bertha Barcus, played a huge part in their lives. While their parents were at work, Bertha took care of them and taught the girls valuable life lessons. "I don't think it's realistic to ask people to be color blind, but I think it is possible for all of us to see through color. And that's what she did," Scarlett says. "It's not something that she preached, it's how she treated us and how she nurtured us."
To honor her memory, Tara and Scarlett decide to donate a stained glass window to the church Bertha and her husband attended before their deaths. Watch the sisters' emotional dedication.
"When you see that beautiful window and you see the light shining through its beautiful colors, I hope that you will feel Bertha's presence," Scarlett says. "And I hope that you know that she can live on through all of us."
The same morning Molly Searle found out about Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge, she also learned that her beloved father, Dennis, had passed away. Molly says her father was well-known for his generosity, which as fate would have it, was the theme of the kindness challenge.
Molly says she was inspired by the show and excited to begin "paying it forward" in honor of her father. On the plane ride home, something remarkable happened. A stranger in a nearby seat overheard Molly and her friend, Angie Snyder, discussing their plans and pulled $500 out of his wallet. "He said, 'Go ahead, take this and pay it forward,'" Molly says.
Back home in Omaha, Nebraska, Molly's family also got in on the giving game. Though they were grieving the loss of Dennis, they were also inspired to help out. In just three days, Molly and Angie had raised an additional $1,700! Then, they went to work.
Their first stop was Omaha's Ronald McDonald House, where they dropped off gifts for sick children and their families. Then, they headed to the supermarket to buy groceries for unsuspecting shoppers. "Oprah, I love you," says one surprised shopper. "Thank you."
When sisters-in-law Angela and Candice Chaffee of Fort Wayne, Indiana, received the $2,000 from Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge, they decide to help give a woman her smile back.
Sandra Byrd has periodontal disease, an infection of the gums and bone caused by plaque, which forced her to have all her teeth removed. She works two jobs to support herself and doesn't have money to replace her teeth with the dentures that she needs. When Angela and Candice hear Sandra's story, they step in and help!
They contact Dr. Todd Saalfrink—the dentist who removed Sandra's teeth for free—to ask for his help again. Sandra's new dentures will cost about $3,000. Angela and Candice contribute $1,000 and Dr. Saalfrank takes care of the remaining $2,000.
Dr. Saalfrank calls Sandra to schedule a "follow-up appointment" and surprises her with the good news. "We're going to give her a beautiful smile and just do the best job we can, and make her gain some self-confidence again, too," he says. Sandra is overwhelmed. "Thanks a lot. There's no way I could have done this on my own. Thanks a lot," Sandra says.
Candice and Angela use the remainder of their challenge money to help an Indiana couple fly to Thailand to adopt a 2-year-old orphan. They also buy a keyboard, stereo, karaoke machine and digital cameras for their local Boys & Girls Club.
Angela says doing the challenge was the greatest gift of all. "It's better than any material thing I could ever receive." Candice says, "I just wish I would have done something like this with my own money earlier." Read more Pay It Forward Challenge stories!
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