Knoxville branch manager turns struggles into joy for sick kids

February 14, 2022
Kristen Long (right) and friends, including U.S. Bank employee Christy Smith, create Valentine’s for kids at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Family and friends from across the country are involved with her annual outreach.

Kristen Long organizes Valentine’s Day gift donations for kids at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in gratitude for her daughter’s successful cancer treatment. 

Kristen Long remembers the day she found out her 15-month-old daughter, Lindsey, had liver cancer. “The statistic was one in a million,” said the Knoxville, Tennessee-based branch manager.

Kristen thoroughly remembers those early days when she and her husband met with doctors and faced difficult decisions like what kinds of surgeries and treatments they should consider, where they should seek care, and which doctors should treat their baby girl. At the time, the family was absorbing a lot of big changes from Lindsey’s diagnosis as they were adjusting to a newer community. They had not lived very long in Knoxville, where she now leads a team at the Powell location north of the city.

“We decided to stay local for Lindsey’s care after meeting with an oncologist at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital,” she recalled. “A few days following our first consultation, we walked into church and saw the doctor there. That gave us confirmation that we were meant to walk through what was happening together.”

Kristen cringes thinking back to the road that was before them. “The chemotherapy was brutal, and she had to have surgery in December 2006 where they removed over half her liver,” explained Kristen.

A few months later on Kristen’s birthday, February 12, Lindsey had a follow up appointment to see if the surgery and chemo were successful. Testing and results took a few days, but the doctor followed up with a call on February 14 that they’ll never forget.

“He told us Lindsey was in remission,” Kristen tearfully shared. “From that day on, Valentine’s Day has always been incredibly special to our family.”

Annually in February, Lindsey has a follow-up appointment to ensure the cancer hasn’t returned.

“On her one-year anniversary of being cancer-free, we decided we wanted to do something for other kids in the hospital. We know how hard it is for kids to be sick and for families to watch them go through their illnesses any time of year. So, I asked the hospital staff if many people did special deliveries on Valentine’s Day. They said no one did.”

Kristen and her family gathered stickers, books and Valentine messages to drop off to the kids. The family also started delivering a Valentine’s meal to guests staying in the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Knoxville. Fourteen years later, the tradition continues.

“Now we have family and friends from all over who want to participate each February. It’s been amazing to watch, and what we’re able to do with other volunteers and donations has grown quite a bit.”

Ohio Branch Manager Corey Thompson met Kristen a few years ago at a company event. He learned about her annual gesture and has been a part of it ever since. Corey drives supplies several hundred miles in time for the hospital deliveries. “I felt a natural connection to Kristen’s efforts because of my own family’s run-ins with cancer. Just thinking about putting a smile on a child’s face during this difficult time in their life is more than enough reason for me to give,” Corey said, adding he has gotten other local employees in his area involved.

Anna Taylor, a child life specialist with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, has been a part of the outreach to hematology oncology patients every year. “Kristen and her family are really amazing. Their Valentine’s delivery really brightens up our patients at a time when they’re often not feeling great. They love it and the gifts really make their time in the hospital better.”

Now 16 and healthy, Lindsey sees these deliveries with a whole new perspective. “Cancer is terrible and it’s sad that kids get stuck in the hospital instead of being able to spend Valentine’s Day with their friends and family. I always hope this makes them forget about the bad for a while and smile,” she said.

The pandemic has impacted Kristen and her family’s ability to visit with the kids in person. “We haven’t been able to drop by their rooms the past few years, but we’re not giving up. The hospital staff delivers the items now, and hopefully, we’ll be able to get back in there to see their faces when circumstances change.”

“At U.S. Bank we are encouraged to invest in our communities,” said Kristen who will celebrate nine years with the company this year. “I feel like our Valentine’s Day Delivery allows us to power human potential by bringing more people together as one to create a much wider outreach. We couldn’t make such an impact without the help of family, friends, and co-workers. The love and support is immeasurable.”

Recipient of a 2022 Valentine's care package at East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

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