Update: Kelleigh’s Cause Soars to New Heights

| April 16, 2015
Photo of Kelleigh Gustafson hugging Nick Ziobro after a concert

Kelleigh Gustafson hugs Nick Ziobro after a concert the talented singer gave at St. Ann’s Church in Manlius to help promote Kelleigh’s Cause.

BY CAROLINE K. REFF

Last year’s edition of Pillars included a story about Kelleigh Gustafson, a young woman who has been living with arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a life-threatening vascular disease, since the age of 4. Kelleigh, however, has never been one to focus on herself. Instead, she has chosen to help others through Kelleigh’s Cause, an initiative aimed at both raising funds and awareness about AVM. To date, Kelleigh’s Cause has raised over $94,000 – almost double the amount reported in Pillars at this time last year – through an annual dress down day at many of the diocesan schools, a number of fundraising events, and many generous donations, particularly from the Catholic community. The past year has brought ups and downs for Kelleigh and her family, but this young woman continues to be blessed with a positive outlook and an unflinching commitment to helping others.

Kelleigh graduated from Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in June 2014 and is now enrolled at Le Moyne College – an experience she describes repeatedly as “awesome.” She is enjoying dorm life, her classes and new friends.

“I’ve made friends here at Le Moyne, including those who have gone through various illnesses or are cancer survivors,” she said. “It’s weird how you find connections with other people. We might not have been through exactly the same thing, but we all know, for example, what it’s like to have had an IV or be in the hospital. We share a lot of similar experiences, and it has brought us closer.”

Last fall, Kelleigh’s Cause was included in Le Moyne’s annual Involvement Fest, which introduces students to campus activities. Kelleigh’s hope was to simply raise awareness at Le Moyne about AVM. Instead, she was surprised to have 75 students volunteer to help with upcoming fundraising events. “She has certainly been embraced by the Le Moyne community,” said mom, Lori Gustafson.

There have been disappointments this year, too. Doctors recently told Kelleigh that her disease continues to progress, and she will have to undergo another difficult surgery in January 2015. True to form, however, Kelleigh is determined to continue her studies at Le Moyne as a biology major. Ultimately, she hopes to enter the medical field in some capacity where she can support those battling not only AVM but other serious illnesses.

“I’ve had a lot of people support me through all of this, and I want to make sure others have someone there for them, too,” she said.

Kelleigh credits the solid support system of her parents, siblings and Catholic faith community for helping her through the rough times and inspiring her to reach out to others. She enjoys speaking to groups about her experience and is currently working with Jasmine Gray, a graduate of Syracuse University, who is making a documentary about young women with AVM. In addition, an updated website is in the works for Kelleigh’s Cause thanks to a generous donation from the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation.

“Kelleigh’s goal has always been to help others,” said her mom, Lori. “A lot of that has come from growing up in Catholic schools. She has an outlook that says, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me. This is the way God made me, and this is how I’m going to help somebody else.’”

For more information on how you can support Kelleigh’s Cause, go to www.Kelleigh.org or Kelleigh’s Cause on Facebook.

Caroline K. Reff is a freelance writer and the marketing consultant for the Catholic Schools Office.

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Category: Christian Service

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