Since beating cancer in 2009, Caitlyn Mortus’ mission has been to provide that opportunity to children fighting life-threatening illnesses through what she calls “social healing.”
Mortus, a sophomore soccer player at The University of Texas at Tyler, was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma at age 13. She was forced into immediate chemotherapy and began a six-month cancer treatment that left her in a state of desolation and sidelined her from the things important to her as a young teen: soccer, cheerleading and normalcy.
But ultimately, the pathway Mortus found to subvert those feelings of isolation helped cure her disease and led her to a way to ease other kids’ struggles with cancer.
“During my treatment, I was given a netbook computer by a family friend and realized the importance of ‘social healing,’ a special type of healing that medicine or doctors can’t provide,” says Mortus, a native of Katy, Texas. “Outside of my family, having the ability to stay in contact with my friends during hospital stays really helped me pull together, stay strong and, at times, allowed me to forget about my illness.”
Many families undertaking the expenses that come with treating a life-threatening or chronic illness can’t afford a computer, however. So after Mortus completed treatment and she and her family were brainstorming ways to help others in the situation they had just survived, they remembered the power of Mortus’ netbook computer and how it helped her access friends back in her “real” world, who were her greatest source of escape and happiness.
In April 2010, only a few months after completing treatment, Mortus and her parents introduced Keep Kids Connected. The nonprofit collects and donates computers and tablets to provide to kids combating cancer or other life-threatening illnesses who are too ill for everyday visitors. For many children, especially teenagers, not being able to communicate with friends can make the illness even harder to handle.
Once accepted through an application process, the kids receive the computers, often delivered by Mortus herself. She passes along private moments of inspiration and has continued to make the deliveries and personal connections since she began competing for Texas-Tyler.
“I know what it’s like for these kids who are having bad days,” Mortus says. “To be able to walk in, give them a computer and turn a bad day into a good one warms my heart and brings me joy, knowing that they know they have something to look forward to – a conversation via computer with friends.”
To date, Keep Kids Connected has purchased and donated more than 785 computers.
Mortus is motivated to help in ways beyond her nonprofit; she hopes to one day become a nurse and continue to help and improve the lives of children battling life-threatening illnesses like the one she conquered.