Donor Profile – John and Colette Killebrew
There is perhaps no greater test two parents can face than the death of a child. John and Colette Killebrew of Maryville, Tenn., know this firsthand.
They also know that there’s no greater reward than using their experience to help others.
For John and Colette, it was love at first sight. Living in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area at the time, they met through a mutual acquaintance in June 1976, got married in 1977 and have been happily married for 35 years. John, a retired telecommunications professional, and Colette, a retired healthcare professional, have a son, Brent, and a four-year-old grandson named Johnathan.
They also had a daughter. Born in January 1978, their daughter, Colleen, had spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when a fetus’ spinal column does not close all of the way and, in Colleen’s case, gets infected. While medical advances today have improved the survival rate of people with spina bifida, in 1978, these advances were not available to save Colleen, who died in April 1978 at only four months old. Colleen’s death devastated John and Colette, but it also strengthened their Christian faith, their marriage and their desire to help others.
“Both Colette and I were in so much pain,” John says. “We knew something like this could make or break us, and it helped us get stronger.” Colette adds, “We got stronger in our belief that we are here for a reason, and if it’s not to be Colleen’s parents, it is to help someone else.”
Looking to help others with Colleen’s condition, John and Colette, who then lived in Atlanta, discovered Shepherd Center, which, in 1991, operated a summer camp, SPARX, for children with Spina Bifida. After touring the Center and having lunch with Alana Shepherd and Dell Sikes, then-vice president of development, John and Colette were excited about contributing to SPARX and have donated $100 a month since 1991. Even after Shepherd Center discontinued SPARX to instead focus on its adolescent patient care program, John and Colette have continued to give generously each month.
While living in Atlanta, John also volunteered on the planning committee for Shepherd Center’s annual charity golf tournament and at the tournament itself. Both John and Colette have named Shepherd Center as a beneficiary in their wills. And, since leaving Atlanta, they’ve returned to tour the Center periodically to see the innovative advances the hospital continues to make. In whatever way they give, John and Colette remain appreciative of Shepherd Center’s gratitude for their donations, as well as incredibly fulfilled by giving to a place that makes such a tremendous difference in people’s lives. “What Shepherd does for the patient is remarkable,” John says. “It gives me a great feeling of satisfaction to contribute to a place that helps so many people.”
Colette adds: “Our lives were totally changed by Colleen’s death. Because of Shepherd, we feel good knowing that another family won’t have to go through what we did.”
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.