Toby Keith will never forget the struggles his friends Scott and Linda Webb faced as their 2-year-old daughter Ally fought and finally succumbed to cancer in 2003.
“The last thing a parent wants to hear is that your kid has cancer. One of the parents usually has to quit work, your bills skyrocket, and you end up spending what precious time you might have left commuting back and forth. We're trying to build a 16-room facility here that houses people with the same burdens,” Keith said Friday morning after he, city officials and Toby Keith Foundation representatives broke ground on the OK Kids Korral.
“They get to share joys and heartbreaks together because they're basically in the same boat. They need that kind of support group around them. This is a wonderful location ... we're so proud to be here today.”
The OK Kids Korral, currently an empty field on the south end of the OU Health Sciences Center, will provide housing for pediatric cancer patients and their families seeking care at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center and other nearby facilities. It is set to open in fall 2013.
“We've waited eight or nine years to have this dream to come true. There's just so much money has to be raised and there's so much time that goes into planning something like this. Eight years ago, I thought we could come down here in about six months and throw this sucker up. But it just takes a lot of time to get the wheels turning,” Keith said.
The groundbreaking took place hours before Keith was to host a private dinner and auction to continue fundraising for the lodge. The event was part of his Ninth Annual Toby Keith & Friends Golf Classic, teeing off Saturday at Belmar Golf Club in Norman, the city Keith calls home.
Eliminating the ‘wobbly bridge'
The country music superstar was nearly upstaged Friday morning by 3-year-old Brock Hart, who happily used a small golden shovel to help with the ceremonial turning of the earth. The Edmond boy was diagnosed with leukemia on Oct. 6, 2009, just a few weeks before first birthday, and he spent the next four months in Children's Hospital as he battled cancer and a life-threatening fungal infection.
During those months, his parents, Jay and Vanessa Hart, traded places every other night.
“We would meet on the crosswalk between the parking garage and the hospital, and we would swap positions: One of us would stay with Brock at the hospital and the other one would go home and be with our oldest daughter. We called it the wobbly bridge,” Jay Hart said as his son sang his ABCs.
“Our family missed a lot of time together. ... And that's where a place like this comes in. If you can get your family together for just a little bit of time, it can turn your emotions around. It can boost your morale.”
The 28,000-square-foot Korral will feature dayrooms for metro-area families like the Harts as well as overnight suites for families who must travel hundreds of miles from rural Oklahoma towns for their children to receive treatment.
It also will include a kitchen, dining hall, learning center, indoor and outdoor playgrounds and a movie theater built to double as a tornado shelter, said Armando Rosell, a member of the Toby Keith Foundation advisory council. It even will feature a neutropenic wing designed to house children whose immune systems have been compromised by their treatments.
The construction budget for the project is $8.5 million, Rosell said, while furnishing the lodge is expected to cost another $1 million. The foundation has raised $3 million and expects to take in $600,000 to $700,000 from this weekend's golf classic and auction.
“We'll be working very hard over the next 18 months to raise the rest of money to finish the project,” he said.
Keith vowed, “we're gonna build it one way or another if I have to build it myself.”
“I'm cutting back on shows where I only do 65 or 70 a year, so I do USO for two weeks and my Toby Keith Foundation OK Kids Korral,” added Keith, who just returned from his 10th United Service Organization tour. “It's two very important things to me: American children, Oklahoma children specifically, and my warriors and my troops overseas. It's just wonderful to be in a position to give back.”
For more information, go to www.toby
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