Drive keeps boy's memory alive

Family honors R.J. Voigt's dying wish with third annual toy fundraiser for sick children

April 07, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Sun Reporter

The girl with auburn hair wears chocolate nail polish now and mascara and eyeliner. For two years, she has been dating a man she plans to marry.

Kimberly Voigt, 17, seems all grown up, so different from the 11-year-old who watched her brother fight for his life at the Ronald McDonald House in downtown Baltimore.

"My mom says I never cried when he was sick," said Kimberly, whose brother, R.J. Voigt, died of cancer at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in 2003. The Sun told the 12-year-old's story in a series about families seeking heroic measures to extend the lives of seriously ill children. "I guess I thought I needed to be strong for everyone around me."

Yesterday, she and her mother, Michele Voigt, were in Baltimore to honor R.J.'s memory with a toy drive for sick children. They set out at 7:20 a.m. yesterday in a three-car caravan, hauling 1,060 toys across the 150 miles from their Pocomoke home to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Friends and volunteers joined the drive after hearing about it on the radio.

Michele Voigt started the toy drive, now in its third year, after her son asked that the stuffed animals donated before his death be given to other children. She tries to hold the drive on R.J.'s birthday, March 6. But this year, Michele Voigt had a tough time organizing the drive.

"He would've been 16 this year, and every time I'd pick up the phone to try to call businesses to organize something, I'd think, `His voice would've changed. He would've had a girlfriend, a job,' and I'd just break down," she said.

In addition to Johns Hopkins, the toy drive went to pediatric wards at the University of Maryland Medical Center and the Ronald McDonald House, giving parents and children a chance to fill bags with everything from stuffed animals to model cars. Prisoners at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover airbrushed posters for children and gave the Voigts a blanket emblazoned with R.J.'s face.

Kimberly Voigt made sure siblings got toys, too. She said she remembers feeling as if she was on the sidelines when R.J. was struggling with cancer.

"I was jealous, sometimes," she said of her mother's constant attention to her ailing brother. "But then I'd get mad at myself for feeling jealous. It just felt unfair sometimes."

Her mother missed her adolescence, Kimberly said. She wasn't there when Kimberly got her first boyfriend. Kimberly's grandmother took care of her on the Eastern Shore while Michele watched over R.J. in Baltimore.

Kimberly spent summer vacations and school breaks with R.J. in Baltimore. Watching him fight for his life helped her decide to become a nurse.

Last year, as a high school junior, she juggled nursing assistant classes with high school math and English and waiting tables. Now a high school senior, she's a certified nursing assistant working at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury. She wants to work on a pediatric oncology ward at Johns Hopkins.

"I'll get in; my nursing instructor said they're looking for good people," she said.

To read about R.J. Voigt in the archived series "If I Die" by reporter Diana K. Sugg, go to

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