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Sep 2015

Beams of Steel Reveal Hearts of Gold

Ironworkers acquire a certain “toughness” on the job. They perform physically demanding and dangerous work with balance, strength and agility, working outside year-round at great heights to guide and connect steel beams weighing tons. 

Some ironworkers on the BJC Campus Renewal Project showed their “softer” side, however, after spotting a toddler in a window nine stories up, waving and smiling day after day. Her mop of hair lost to chemotherapy to treat A-L-L type leukemia, Vivian Keith spent hours watching the cranes lifting beams of steel and the ironworkers securing them in place.

“During her long visits, she had plenty of toys, and everyone at the hospital does a great job to make sure these kids have everything,” says her mom, Ginger Keith. “But by far she just loved to hang out at the window and watch construction. She would sit there watching and pointing to everything and waving to everyone who waved back.”
Greg Combs and Travis Barnes, two of the ironworkers who noticed Vivian, decided to send a special message to her and all the kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital — “Get Well Soon” — which they painted on a steel beam. 

“We first saw Vivian a day or two before we sent the message,” says Greg Combs. “The day we sent it she was waving and making silly faces at us. She really made us laugh.”

Since February, Vivian has been hospitalized four times. Three times she was in isolation because of fevers and low white blood cell count. Twice she was there for more than three weeks. 

“It meant so much to see ‘Get Well Soon’ on the steel,” Ginger Keith says. “Kids are here just trying to get better, and that message helped to make their time a little better.”

Vivian and her family got to meet Combs and Barnes in late August when KSDK Channel 5 anchor Mike Bush learned of Vivian’s story. They were featured on KSDK’s Making A Difference at 10 p.m., August 31.

“When we found out that someone wanted to talk to us, we were both surprised,” Combs says. “We think the doctors, nurses and staff are amazing for what they do on a daily basis. We didn’t think what we did was much of a big deal. But we’re really happy that it made Vivian, and hopefully some other kids, smile.”

Vivian still has a long road ahead of her. While the cure rate for the type of leukemia she has is high, the course of treatment is two and a half to three years. Vivian turns 3 next month.

“This chapter in Vivian’s life will never be forgotten,” Ginger Keith adds. “She will have Greg and Travis as her friends for life. I will make sure of that. Maybe one day they will get to dance with her at her wedding.” 

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