"She couldn't talk, but she taught them how to love" by Candy Hatcher, Seattle P-I Columnist, April 2001
We can learn a lot from a little girl who couldn't see, who never spoke, who lived in a wheelchair and died in her grandfather's arms. Kaitlin Whitfield taught hundreds of people to look beyond imperfections. The 6-year-old Everett girl, whose degenerative disorders kept her from developing past the age of 5 months, taught everyone who met her about priorities.
She taught her family to take care of each other, to appreciate hugs, to laugh at silly little things. They enjoyed trips to Cle Elum, two hours east, where a Nazarene church held potluck lunches and made a big deal of Kaitlin's visits. Her parents learned to laugh when Kaitlin, who couldn't control her legs, inadvertently kicked someone sitting nearby. They came to treasure the times they'd find big sister Janelle on Kaitlin's bed, reading to her little sister.
Doug and Carol Whitfield weren't prepared when this adorable, dark-haired baby, six weeks into life, suffered the first of many seizures. Kaitlin, whose birth had been completely normal, began having them weekly, and then daily, and then several times a day. She wasn't developing, her father said. Doctors performed hundreds of tests, gave her dozens of medications to treat the myriad problems. Kaitlin never got better.
In September 1998, they bought a Dodge Grand Caravan. After a while, it seemed to know the way to Children's Hospital. Kaitlin's problems -- epilepsy and microcephaly among them -- became more serious. She lost her sight when she was 4. She began to have gastrointestinal problems. Pancreatitis.
The last two years, Kaitlin was very sick. Her body began rejecting everything. She had tubes in her stomach. By the end of December, her family brought her home from the hospital. Doctors said they could do nothing else for her. The child's body was failing to thrive.
Kaitlin spent her last weekend in a rocking chair, with family and friends, including Janelle, 9, taking turns holding her. "We prayed. We sang. We laughed. We cried," Carol said. "A lot of crying. But a really neat time together." On Monday, Feb. 5, Carol's father held Kaitlin and asked God not to let her suffer any more. She died a few minutes later. Her pediatrician changed Kaitlin's last diaper and took her tubes out.
Four hundred fifty people showed up at her funeral. Police officers and firefighters, doctors and nurses who had cared for Kaitlin over the years, folks who had contributed to the van that carted her around, who had held her in the days before she died. "We have to give God the credit," the Whitfield’s said. "We couldn't get through it without him. He gave us a very, very special child. She was never a burden to us. Never."
"She touched a lot of lives even though she never spoke," Carol said. "Kaitlin couldn't give back as a normal child. But in her own way ... she taught us to love. To love deeply."