Thursday, November 7, 2002

For mom, 5 kids


Cincinnati rolls out a safety net

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Dan Keiser, just 30 years old, was feeding money into a change machine when he collapsed and died. "The paramedics worked on him," says his widow, Kelly. "But I think he was already gone."

He was a big guy, 6-foot-5, but he wasn't overweight. He had no history of heart problems. It was a deadly shard of plaque, according to the coroner's report.

So one minute, this young family is whooping it up, playing video games. Then the next minute, Kelly is a single mother of five children. The youngest, Samantha, was just 5 months old when her father died. Little stair steps, my mom used to call families like this one.

Taylor will be 10 next month. Daniel Jr. is 8. Alexandra, 7, already was being treated for cystic fibrosis. The disease skipped Sydney, 4, but landed again on Samantha, who was diagnosed a few weeks after her father died in September 2001. So, make that the mother of five children, two of them with special needs.

American dreamers

She and Dan, who worked at Mid-America Glass Block, had been fixing up their house in Covedale, three bedrooms and about 1,000 square feet. They were getting it ready to sell, doing the work themselves, hoping to move up to something bigger. Sweat equity, we call it. The American Dream. They had plans.

Life insurance wasn't even on their radar screen. They were barely in their 30s, scrimping, just getting started.

A friend came forward to pay some of the funeral expenses. Neidhard Minges Funeral Home on Harrison waved away the rest. Dan's boss told her the company had a small life insurance policy on him. Social Security kicked in. And Medicaid started paying for the children's medical bills.

A year ago, family and friends started the Dan Keiser Memorial Fund at Fifth Third Bank. Then they organized a benefit and sent checks, large and small. Kelly gets by. Just.

"I suppose there are other places where people are this nice," Kelly says. "But I think we would have been a lot worse off if we'd lived someplace besides Cincinnati."

Which is kind of nice to hear these days.

Her girls, she says, get "terrific care" at the pulmonary center at Children's Hospital Medical Center. It's supported by former Bengal quarterback Boomer Esiason in honor of his son Gunnar, diagnosed with CF in 1993. The three oldest children received counseling at Fernside Center for Grieving Children. Which is not only a service unavailable in many cities, but it is free of charge here.

"And people here don't forget you," she says, meaning the Second Annual Dan Keiser Family Memorial Bowling Benefit, which will be Nov. 16 from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Western Bowl on Glenway in Western Hills. Tickets at $15 are available by calling 513-787-3392.

Sometimes - let's be honest - we feel besieged. The diseases to be cured. The strangers to be fed. The safety net that needs to be patched. And it's easy to forget, particularly if you have been lucky and prosperous, that, as Kelly says, "you can't always see what's around the bend."

E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.




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