Former Mt. Lebanon resident Ann Mallen, who now lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, sent Susan Morgans, our editor in chief, a letter she wanted us to publish regarding Mt. Lebanon’s treatment of her son, Matt Kelsey, a Mt. Lebanon volunteer firefighter. Kelsey was recently diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. What follows is her note.
An Open Letter to the Communities of Mt. Lebanon and the South Hills:
No mother is ever prepared for a family member’s life-threatening illness. On December 11, my son’s co-workers in the St. Clair Hospital ER encouraged him to have blood work. Soon after, an ambulance drove Matthew to Shadyside Hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, an aggressive and rare form of blood cancer. He spent a month in the hospital for his initial chemotherapy, and he returns for six days a month for intense consolidation rounds of chemo. Doctors estimate he’ll be out of work for a year.
His coworkers saved his life, and we are very grateful. Yet, they did far more than that. What happened next is a testament not only to St. Clair Hospital but to the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department, the business districts, and indeed, this entire community.
Hospital employees showed up at Shadyside to visit Matt. They signed cards, sent emails, called, FaceTimed, created giant wall posters of good wishes, and brought thoughtful gifts. They donated vast number of their vacation hours, so Matt would have a paycheck for months. They gave money, so Matt could focus on his health rather than worry about bills.
As a volunteer firefighter, Matt has another group behind him. As soon as they heard the news, his fellow firefighters mobilized. They set Matt up for video games, delivered to his room one of those cardboard cut-outs of a firefighter complete with its own hospital mask, offered rides and anything else the family needed. They showed up with burgers, pizza and books. They cracked jokes or just sat with him when things were rough. They also arranged for Matt and Sam to FaceTime with the department at the holiday banquet. Plus, their driver delivered the same meal, filet mignon, chicken breast, potatoes, salad, rolls, and fancy holiday desserts, to Matt’s hospital room. When I had to fly home for a few weeks, one of them scheduled rides and visits.
Perhaps, none of this is surprising for local folk. Mt. Lebanon Fire Department is known to efficiently activate a coordinated response, and St. Clair Hospital has a reputation as a warm friendly place that treats their employees “like family” as one of them told me. Still, I was born in Ohio, spent my school years in Connecticut, and have lived in Florida for the last 26 years. I’ve traveled to other cities. I have never seen a community like this.
The Fire Department coordinated a blood drive to help replenish what Matt used and continues to require. People came throughout the day and donated 88 units. Volunteers from St. Clair Hospital helped with this event too. Community volunteers sold raffle tickets. One couple gave blood and then pulled Matt aside to quietly offer encouragement. Their son went through the same thing a few years past and survived, and they just wanted Matt to know.
On March 4, the Bridgeville Fire Department hosted the Mt. Lebo firefighters in their large hall for a spaghetti dinner. Businesses in the Washington and Beverly Road districts and beyond donated hundreds of items and gift certificates for baskets. Individuals donated baskets too. Wrapped in cellophane and tied with colorful bows, they spanned more than one side of the huge hall. St. Clair and the Fire Department organized a wheelbarrow and buckets of cheer— bottles of wine and spirits, snack items, and glassware—to raffle as well. An army of volunteers cooked, served, and cleaned up. Over 500 people attended. A local Pittsburgh news station did a short segment on the event.
So often, lately, we read and see stories of division and hate. Sadly, Mt. Lebanon has not been immune to such things, but I read with hope about the December Unity Rally at the Rec Center. And here, again, is evidence of goodness in this community. Matt could only spend a few moments at the spaghetti dinner as he is immunocompromised, but you touched him beyond words with your incredibly positive support and care. Hundreds of people, many of them strangers, shared a meal to help another.
Years ago, when Matt was in training as a firefighter, he volunteered for Mt. Lebo’s tree lighting event. While he stood at the firetruck passing out gold stickers to children, he introduced me to one of his mentors who took me aside and said, “I know as a mom, you might tend to worry, but I want to assure you we’ll take good care of him.” I never imagined he meant Matt’s social, emotional, and financial well-being too. I never thought this community would give their time and money to assist my son in his time of need. On behalf of Matthew Kelsey and his family, I want to thank St. Clair Hospital, the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department, and the people and businesses of the South Hills. This is an exceptional community, and your support of my son represents the best instincts of humankind. Our deepest gratitude.
Ann Mallen (Matt’s mom)