From the moment he entered the world, Mason Kempf made an impact on everyone he met through his big smile and bigger heart. By the time he left this world in March 2011, that impact wrapped around the globe and showed complete strangers how one little boy can change the lives of many.
Mason was an intelligent, active child who loved Boy Scouts, soccer, video games and playing with his brother and sister. By second grade, he already planned to attend University of Missouri and become a scientist. However, a diagnosis of diffuse pontine giloma, a brain tumor, in April 2010 changed his path in life.
For the next several months, Mason received treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis until finally his medical team acknowledged there was nothing more they could do. Mason was able to return to his hometown of Overland Park, Kan., and eventually spent the last weeks of his life in hospice care.
His mother Andria chronicled his journey at masonarik.blogspot.com – a touching site that struck a chord with readers. People immediately reached out to help – the Elves of Christmas Present worked on Christmas Eve to create a snow-covered wonderland to grant his holiday wish. In February, Valentine cards were received from around the world, cheering this brave fighter on.
Due to this outpouring of kindness, the family knew they had to find a way to help others. Once they were told there was no cure for Mason’s illness, his father began researching the possibility of eye and kidney donation, talking openly with Mason’s doctors and broaching the subject with hospice providers. Donation hit especially close to home since Mason’s grandmother, who has diabetes, will likely need a kidney transplant herself one day.
Said Andria, “We felt like what happened to us was so tragic, but from day one we looked for the good in the situation. If there was anything we could do for someone else, we would do it. We learned so much from our journey, especially in regards to compassion from complete strangers. It was up to us to give back to help someone else out.”
On March 29, 2011, Mason passed away at home. A few days later, cornea recipients in New York and California received his gift of sight.
Today, Mason’s kindness toward others is still being felt through one special project.
A Love for Tigers Lives on
Whether at home in Kansas City or during his treatment in Memphis, Mason loved spending his free time at each city’s zoo, in particular visiting his beloved tigers.
“On the day he was born, Mason received a giant stuffed tiger,” remarked Andria. “From that day on, he always loved tigers and felt a special connection to them, especially once he got sick. Tigers are brave and courageous just like he was. Plus, the tigers at the Kansas City Zoo are near extinction, so like Mason, they have their own battle to fight.”
Upon seeing the Memphis Zoo’s open, natural tiger habitat, Mason was looking forward to the Kansas City Zoo creating something similar for its own tigers. Spurred by Mason’s passion for the project, his parents met with Kansas City Zoo officials to see how they could help provide support the plan for its upcoming tiger exhibit renovation.
A memorial for Mason was soon set up at the Zoo to raise funds for the tiger sanctuary. On June 21, 2011, which would have been Mason’s tenth birthday, the Kempfs encouraged individuals to send a birthday card and donation to the Zoo’s memorial fund in honor of their son’s final wish. Contributions may continue to be sent to:
Kansas City Zoo
Attn: Laura Berger “In Memory of Mason Kempf”
6800 Zoo Dr
Kansas City, MO 64132
Said Andria, “We’re hoping the exhibit will convey to people the person Mason was. He taught us to carry on and help in the lives of others. We want to impact other people so they too can make a difference and follow in his footsteps.”