Opening their hearts

MARSHALL – Kindness can be very contagious, and Brianna Kuehn, a fifth-grader at Marshall Middle School, has an extreme case of it.

Recently, random acts of kindness have been spreading throughout MMS and beyond as Kuehn has been leading a compassionate charge to help bring a little love to a very sick Twin Cities 3-year-old named June Rudd.

“I was upstairs with my dad, sitting on his bed and watching the news with him when I learned about June,” Kuehn said. “In the morning, my dad got the (KARE 11) story off the Internet and said I should take it to school and have my teachers look at it. So I did.”

Suffering from complications of a rare disease known as Aicardi Syndrome, June has been hospitalized for long periods of time in her short life.

Doctors had previously told June’s parents, Adam and Kati Rudd, that their daughter would be lucky if she made it to her first birthday, adding that June would never walk, talk or do anything on her own. But June’s strong will to live has surpassed everyone’s expectations, though her life hasn’t been an easy one. That’s why her parents recently put out a plea for support, not of money, but of visible symbols of love.

Hoping that people would respond to the plea, June’s family set a goal of hanging 20,000 4-by-4 inch handmade hearts in her room by June 1, which is why Kuehn didn’t waste any time initiating her mission to help.

“I felt sad when I heard about June,” Kuehn said. “If it were me, I’d be so sad, and I’d hope everybody in the whole world would be helping, or at least in the United States.”

After getting approval from MMS Principal Mary Kay Thomas, Kuehn began coordinating an effort with MMS teachers and administrative assistant Abbie Boelter to create as many hearts as possible and send them to June.

“Teachers read the story about June to students in class,” Boelter said. “Brianna also did an announcement in school. Then kids either did them at home or in advisories. Some did them with a peer helper.”

Boelter noted that of the 600 hearts that were sent out to MMS students, about 500 were decorated and returned to the office.

“You can’t teach that, the compassion,” Boelter said. “Brianna just has a big heart for a little girl. She watched the news story and did something about it. It’s pretty awesome.”

On Tuesday, Kuehn and 11 of her classmates lovingly created more hearts for June during their fifth-grade advisory time.

“I thought it was really cool that Brianna brought the idea in because June’s family wanted 20,000 hearts by June 1st to hang in her hospital room,” fifth-grader Parker McNeil said. “I thought we should help her out, the whole MMS. Hopefully it spreads around the world, too, the making of hearts and stuff.”

Despite their youth, the students are taking the mission very seriously and seem to have incredible empathy for the little girl they have never met but yet feel connected to.

“It’s not just somebody in the hospital,” McNeil said. “She can’t say anything, and she’s been in there for a long time. She’s never left there since she was a baby, probably. It’s nice to do something, to help someone out. Twenty thousand hearts is a lot of hearts, you know. You want to help them out, to get hearts to them.”

On June’s CaringBridge site, her parents reported that June is among 500-1,000 others in the world to suffer from the rare seizure disorder.

“It only exists in girls and one boy,” they said. “We do not know how many days we have with our amazing little girl, but we will forever be thankful for every second we have.”

And while the doctors said June would never speak, the KARE 11 story revealed that June said “I love you” once to her parents.

“They said she’ll never be able to talk, and she talked one time,” McNeil said. “She said, ‘I love you’ to her mom and dad, just once. And they said she’ll live till only 1 year old, but they were wrong. It’s nice that it’s on the news, too, and that it’s getting around to everybody. I think that’s cool and hopefully she feels better.”

Carsyn Schneider said she was happy to help make a difference in someone’s life.

“It was fun,” Schneider said. “I made my heart pink. I think seeing all the hearts will make her feel better than she does right now.”

Trey Steinbach gladly did his part as well.

“I wanted to help out because she was not feeling very well,” he said. “It made me feel bad, so I wanted to do something to help her.”

Henn, a physical education teacher, oversaw the advisory group project Tuesday and was extremely proud of the middle school students.

“It’s a real thoughtful and kind gesture,” Henn said. “Thinking of others, that’s what it’s all about.”

Fifth-grader Jenna Mortier agreed.

“Cause if you were in her shoes, what would you want?” Mortier said.

McNeil added that he was reminded of the golden rule, to treat others like you want to be treated.

“So if you’re in the hospital sometime, you’d want to get so many hearts and stuff, but then if you don’t send any hearts to people, like to June, then maybe no one will send any to you,” he said. “I just think it’s a good cause.”

As they put the finishing touches on their love-filled hearts, the students continued to express how important it was to them that others join in and offer additional support.

“West Side also did it because my sister and my friends told me that everyone in the whole school did it, too,” Kuehn said. “It would be nice if it spreads in Marshall and stuff, and more people, like adults, will start doing it. That would be good.”

McNeil suggested that area daycares and preschools jump on board to support June, too.

“It would be a good project for preschoolers,” he said. “They could scribble on it and write their name and where they’re from.”

Kuehn has collected hundreds of hearts for June so far. Before sending them, Kuehn said her mom and dad plan to contribute to her mission.

“Almost everybody in the school made hearts, I believe,” Kuehn said. “I’m pretty happy that everyone did that. My mom and dad want to make one, and then we’re going to send them to June.”

On CaringBridge, June’s parents reported that they spend their evenings looking at and reading all the new hearts they receive.

“June loves to look and blow kisses at them,” they said. “She can really feel the love, we all can. It really perks up the day to see them and know how much June is loved. The world will know June, and hopefully she will make a difference. Her story is rare, it’s special, and it’s June Bug!”

Hearts can be sent to June Rudd, P.O. Box 992, Anoka, MN 55303.