Katy teen to build home for AIDS orphans

KATY, TX Kristin, a senior at Faith West Academy in Katy, Texas, has been battling a rare form of cancer for more than two years, a disease with only a 50 percent survival rate after five years.

Yet when she was asked in July by the Make-A-Wish Foundation what she hoped for, she requested not a celebrity visit for herself nor a fantasy vacation for her family but to share her wish with others.

She thought back on an earlier trip with Family Legacy Missions International to Zambia, a journey with her sister, Mandy Michelle Elliott, a 20-year-old Baylor junior. There, they spent days at Camp Life outside the city of Lusaka, working among the children orphaned by AIDS.

According to AVERT, an international AIDS charity, Zambia in southern Africa has one of the world's most devastating HIV and AIDS epidemics. One in every six adults in Zambia is living with HIV, and life expectancy at birth has fallen to less than 40 years.

"God placed it on my heart to leave something for these kids," Kristin said.

So she requested that Make-A-Wish help her start Kristin's Miracle House, a home for 20 of the more than 1 million children orphaned in the poverty-stricken African nation by this modern scourge. The home would be part of a village established to give educational opportunities and medical attention to the ostracized children.

The nonprofit entity gave her $2,600 in seed money but said it was up to her to raise the rest to make her $60,000 wish come true.

"I'm proud of her servant's heart," said her mother, Terri. "She has never let the cancer be first place in her life."

To date, they have raised $7,000 for the cause, Terri added.

Kristin was diagnosed with the rare cancer, synovial cell sarcoma, at 16. Found in only one out of 300,000 people, the soft-tissue cancer most often strikes adolescents and young adults. It is the same disease that claimed actor Robert Urich in 2002 after a five-year battle.

A grapefruit-sized, stage III tumor was found in her right thigh in February 2006, she said. Kristin endured chemotherapy for almost three months but ultimately had to undergo a nine-hour surgery to have the large mass removed.

Kristin was not expected to return to playing her high school sport, volleyball, much less walk again. But after recovering from the extensive surgery, she started aggressive radiation treatment and survived.

"Doctors are amazed she's gotten this far out from diagnosis, and she's got back to full-time volleyball in school," her mother said.

A year after Kristin's last radiation treatment, two cancerous tumors were found in her lungs. The masses were removed in July 2007. Because a tumor was missed during that procedure, she had to return to the operating suite on New Year's Eve to have it removed.

The teen undergoes periodic scans to determine if she carries any trace of the sarcoma in her tissues. "We're believers, so we go in (to each scan) with a hopeful heart," Kristin said.

The Elliotts attend Katy Community Fellowship, an eight-year-old congregation that meets in the AMC Theater at Katy Mills Mall.

"My faith in God and prayers from family and friends has sustained me through this long, hard journey," Kristin said. "I am believing in my complete healing and will continue to live life with everything I have."

Her sister, Mandy, who plays on the Baylor volleyball team, is studying to be a physician's assistant. Kristin said she is interested in nursing.

Since age 13, she added, she had been called to care for the unloved and less fortunate souls of this world, people "who desperately need to hear of God's unconditional love for them."

"I feel most humbled when caring for others and cannot express the joy I have when doing so," Kristin said of her mission trips abroad. "I have come to find that nothing can be more spiritually fulfilling and eternally worthwhile than being a servant to others for God."

If her health holds out, she will be returning to Zambia from June 8-22 with Family Legacy Missions International (LegacyMissions.org) on another mission trip.

"By faith, we just move forward," said her mom.

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