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John Kelly's Washington

Following Links in a Life's Chain

By John Kelly
Friday, December 24, 2004; Page C07

Doctors saved Scott Caldwell's life on the operating-room table that summer day in 1960.

Because of that, Alescia made the honor roll this year.

_____Children's Campaign_____
Washington Post columnist John Kelly is raising money for the Children's National Medical Center, one of the nation's leading pediatric hospitals. You may make a tax-deductible contribution online anytime between Nov. 29th and Jan. 21st. Thank you for your support.
_____By John Kelly_____
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I'll grant you, it's a circuitous route that takes you from that first statement to that second one, but then life's that way, isn't it?

Alescia is a 15-year-old from North Carolina. Starting in 1998, she was in and out of foster homes, eventually living for two years at the Nazareth Children's Home, a residential facility for kids not far from Charlotte.

Scott and his wife, Johnsie, live in Hickory, N.C., where Scott works for a company that makes custom furniture. The two of them -- nodding acquaintances in high school -- got together a decade ago after Scott ran into Johnsie at a Hickory Crawdads minor league baseball game where she was selling concessions.

They'd been married for a while when they decided to become foster parents. Then they decided it was time to think about adopting.

They met Alescia at an adoption fair. The youngster started visiting them at their home, then moved in with the Caldwells in October 2003. In April of this year, Scott and Johnsie officially adopted Alescia.

Alescia isn't the couple's only child. Johnsie has two grown children from her first marriage: Dawn, 30, and Kelly, 26. So does Scott: Shelly, 28, and Derek, 27.

That's a bunch of lives that Scott has touched in the almost 53 years that he's been on Earth. And that he touched them at all is because of the doctors at Children's Hospital.

In July 1960, when he was 8, Scott went into Children's for heart surgery. He had what's called a coarctation of the aorta. The aorta, the big vessel at the top of the heart through which oxygenated blood is delivered to the rest of the body, was dangerously narrow.

Four years earlier, the exact same operation was performed at Bethesda Naval Medical Center on his father, Gaius ("They got names out of the Bible till they ran out," Scott said of his Pentecostal grandparents).

"I knew I was going in for surgery," Scott told me when I asked what he remembered of his time at Children's Hospital. "I can remember people at church praying for us, that it would be a successful operation, which it was."

And so the 8-year-old turned 9. He grew up, went to college and studied furniture drafting and design. He got married and became a father to Shelly and Derek. He and his wife split up, as couples sometimes do, and Scott found the Lord. And Scott found Johnsie and he married her. And they found a peace together they'd never known apart. And together they provided a stable home for Alescia.

"We keep her active in church," Scott said of his daughter. She goes to a private school where the former C, D and E student this year made the honor roll.

There are those who think that time isn't linear, that it isn't a conveyor belt carrying us into the future, but an infinite tree, which splits off in countless directions every second. And then those seconds split off, and so on and so on. . . .

Maybe, but this particular reality right here is the only one any of us can experience.

"If I went under the knife tomorrow, I'm sure I'd be scared," said Scott, who will turn 53 Tuesday. "But either way, I'd be a winner. I'd either come out of it or I'd be in heaven. That's how I feel about it."

Preserving the Future

Trace an imaginary finger back to all the people you've touched, in small ways and big, during the time you've drawn breath on this planet. None of them can imagine life without you.

Children's Hospital has been giving kids a life since 1871. And in doing so, it hasn't just given us back a kid, it's given us an adult, a parent, a grandparent, a foster parent, an aunt, an uncle, a friend.

We're at the halfway point of this year's campaign to raise money for Children's Hospital. Our goal by Jan. 21 is $600,000.

So far, we've raised $186,471.82.

Here's how to contribute:

Make a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

To contribute by credit card online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital and click on "Make a Donation." You'll be greeted by a pop-up that takes you right to the donation page. To contribute by Visa or MasterCard by phone, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200, then punch in KIDS and follow the instructions.

I'm Your Vehicle, Baby

Guess who's going to be at the Washington Auto Show?

Um, yes, Ronald McDonald will be there. But that's not who I'm talking about.

Alexa Havens, who plays Babe Chandler on "All My Children"? Yes, she'll be there, too. Who else?

Why that's right, Jeanette Lee, professional billiards champion, will be in attendance, along with various wrestling stars, football players, radio DJs and costumed characters -- and lots and lots of cars and trucks.

And I'll be there, too, smiling oddly from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday in The Post's booth at the Washington Convention Center. If you're there, please stop by and say hi. For more information on the show, which runs Sunday to Jan. 2, visit www.washingtonautoshow.com.

My e-mail: kellyj@washpost.com. My address: The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company