He’s a fire chief in Sedona Arizona, he had a daughter with special needs who sadly passed away at age two, and through it all he continues in his quest to help people. He’s Kris Kazian and he’s David Hirsch’s guest in this Special Fathers Network Podcast. Kris and his wife Christine formed Helping from Heaven – the Lexie Kazian foundation, a not for profit organization that improves the quality of life for families with special needs kids. It’s a compelling interview and a great listen.
Dad To Dad 31 – Sedona firefighter Kris Kazian on the loss of his daughter, Lexie, and the formation of the Lexie Kazian Foundation.
Tom Couch: This is the Special Fathers Network podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers.
Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: Hi, I’m David Hirsch. This is the Special Fathers Network podcast stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: And I’m Tom Couch. Today David talks to special father Kris Kazian, a fire chief at the Sedona Arizona fire district.
Kris Kazian: I kind of fell into this fire service. I’ve always believed in helping people.
It was somewhere in programs in my DNA that, you know, you got to give back to people.
Tom Couch: Kris and his wife, Christie are the proud parents of Kate, Emma, Cammie, and Lexi, a child with special needs,
Kris Kazian: but the most beautiful, beautiful baby ever. And we. Committed at that moment to, uh, to take care of her. Sadly, Lexie passed away some 14 years ago at age two.
The fragileness of life is so important for families who have children with special needs. And every day is a gift
Tom Couch: Kris and his family then formed helping from heaven, the Lexi Kazian foundation.
Kris Kazian: I was just hearing her name when people say her name. I love hearing her name, a not for profit to help other families with special needs kids.
This was my therapy after Lexi died, was to put together this nonprofit and to make the difference improving the comfort and quality of wives and children with special needs.
Tom Couch: He’s Kris Kazian and amazing father who has selflessly improved the quality of life for families with special needs kids.
Kris Kazian: You do everything you can do.
So raise that child, everyone has different means and abilities. You were chosen to, to help that child and be that in that child’s life. So you’re going to do everything you can do whatever that means.
Tom Couch: And he’s David Hirsch’s guest on this Special Father’s Network podcast. Here’s David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Being a father is very important to me.
I’ve started a number of charitable organizations designed to increase the role of fathers. One of them, the Special Fathers Network. Is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. We’ve been interviewing some exceptional fathers of special needs kids, and we want to share their stories with you.
Tom Couch: So let’s get to it. Here’s David Hirsch’s conversation with special father Kris Kazian.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend, Kris Kazian of Sedona, Arizona, a father of four girls fire, chief of the Sedona fire district, and founder of the helping from heaven, Lexie Kazian foundation. Kris, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Kris Kazian: Thank you for having me, David.
David Hirsch: You and your second wife, Christie had been married for 18 years and of the proud parents of four girls, Kate 31, Emma 23, Cammy 13 and Lexi who died at age two 14 years ago. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Kris Kazian: I grew up with a single mom.
My parents were divorced by the time I was age five. We grew up all over. I, I joke. I think we were gypsies or wonder by the law or maybe both. I’m not sure. The, uh, what we primarily lived in, in Lake County, Illinois. Most of my life born in Waukegan spend a lot of time actually in Skokie Evanston area, which is an in cook County and then back to Lake County and kind of my high school formative years and beyond until about 41.
Were spent in the Libertyville Mundelein, the Vernon Hills area. Did you have any siblings? I do. I’ve got a younger brother. Who’s four years younger. Ian he’s also a fire chief now works in the Deerfield fire district. So we grew up, uh, as close brothers were honored to, uh, somehow find our way into the fire service and help serve people as, as our calling.
David Hirsch: So any other siblings?
Kris Kazian: I have a half sister, I guess I should, should acknowledge a half sister, but I, we’re not close at all.
David Hirsch: So, what was it that drove both you and your brother to be firefighters? That seems unusual.
Kris Kazian: Uh, yeah, we do not have any family connection that I really want to be a garbage man.
Cause I think that’s a really cool job. And actually listen, one of your earlier podcasts, uh, one of the dads whose son is, uh, on the hockey teams, the garbage man. So I kinda smiled listening to that podcast earlier. I want to be a garbage man. That was just cool job, but somehow ended up being a fireman, which is a pretty cool job too.
I worked at a gas station, uh, full service gas station back as, as a kid and watched the firetrucks go by every, uh, Every day, multiple times through the center of town and, and Libertyville there. And, uh, one day I just said, I wonder what that, what do you got to do to be a firefighter? And so I, I went in and talked to some people and they said, here take an application.
And I was just kind of blind luck that it, uh, it happened that way. We had one family friend that had, uh, the husband was a fireman. So I certainly talked to him and visited him once at a fire station, but just kind of fell into it. And my brother followed suit. That’s awesome.
David Hirsch: So one of the things we have in common is that we are raised by single moms and my parents were divorced, starting at my age six.
And you mentioned that your dad left at your age five. Did you maintain a relationship with them? What type of relationship did you have with your dad?
Kris Kazian: You know, certainly, uh, my dad struggled with, uh, alcohol and drug abuse, uh, as, as part of the problem, uh, leading to a divorce and such my brother. And I certainly spent time with my dad on occasions, but I can tell you that it wasn’t always a positive memories in those early, early years, as he struggled with his addiction.
Going forward. He ended up, uh, becoming sober and, uh, while he passed away about, I think maybe four years ago now he was sober and clean for, I think 25 or 26 years. So certainly had a much better relationship towards the end of our life when he was, uh, you know, an involved grandparent and connected, but we certainly missed a lot of years in there and it certainly took its toll on.
My brother and I, who actually both actually deal with it quite differently. It’s kind of interesting, but we struggled out of a solid relationship with, uh, with any father figure. Uh, certainly my grandfather on my mom’s side was very pivotal in our growing up. We lived with my grandparents a few times throughout that single parent process as my mom struggled.
And, uh, so, uh, it was, it was, it was challenged.
David Hirsch: Okay. So when you think about, uh, the relationship with your dad, I guess as a younger person, that was really challenging because of the challenges that he had personally. And then once he became sober, you know, there’s an opportunity to have a different relationship.
And not that you can boil down a relationship to one or two things, but it was just something that you can look back on and say, and this is what I learned from my dad, or these are some of the positive takeaways
Kris Kazian: from my dad. Well, I certainly, I would say forgiveness of learned that we all live our life.
We all have a path we choose to take and whatever reasons we make decisions, we make them, I’ve been able to forgive my father and, uh, appreciate you get what you get and take from it, what you can. And while it was not a lot in the earlier years, I certainly think that the, uh, you know, the latter years were, were definitely valuable and I’m glad that we had opportunities.
And then the second thing I guess, is just, uh, to be present for my kids. And mostly because I didn’t have that from my dad. So, um, it was maybe a lesson learned and opposite if you will, but it was important to me. So I’ve been very involved with my kids, uh, uh, all of them.
David Hirsch: That’s great. So the way I think about it, Chris, is that, uh, we can learn a lot from role models and you can break role models up in generally speaking into two categories, good role models.
When you want to emulate. And then the bad role models, the ones you want to live vicariously through. So you don’t make some of the same mistakes that they made. Correct. That’s what I heard you said is that not having a dad present really made an impact on you and you made the decision that, that wasn’t going to be the way you were going to be with your children loud and clear.
Kris Kazian: Very, very much so.
David Hirsch: So, uh, was there anyone else served as a father figure when you were growing up since your dad wasn’t as involved.
Kris Kazian: You know, my, my, my mom was, uh, has been dating and marriage to the, the man she’s with now, uh, John for 30 years now. So a good chunk of my life. And certainly John is a wonderful person.
Who’s just been, been there. You know, he’s always got a very, a calmness to his. Personality. And while he didn’t raise us, my brother and I per se, he’s, he’s certainly an important person in my life today
David Hirsch: for no other reason that no, he’s the one that’s taking care of your mom.
Kris Kazian: Absolutely. It’s good to have him there to take care of my mom and be a part of her life, but also to be part of my brother and I’s life and my, and my grandkids or my, my kids, his grandkids.
He’s very, very. Um, loving and caring with all of the kids.
David Hirsch: so, um, as I understand it, you have an associates degree in fire science technology from college of Lake County and a bachelor’s degree in fire science management from Southern Illinois university.
Kris Kazian: Yep.
David Hirsch: You’ve worked for 20 years as a firefighter in Lake County before moving to Sedona and in 2012,
Kris Kazian: Correct.
I also have a master’s degree from Dominican university as well and organizational leadership.
David Hirsch: Okay. So it seems like you knew from a very young age that you wanted to be a firefighter and you focused on it and you been that, you know, one career in Illinois and then for the last six years and Sedona,
Kris Kazian: that’s correct.
Yeah. As I, as I, you know, I kind of fell into this fire service career. I’ve always, I’ve always believed in helping people, just watching the things I learned as a, as a young child with all the people that helped me and my mom. It was somewhere in programmed, in my DNA that, that, you know, you got to give back to people when I began this fire service career.
In 1990, uh, with the Liberty of old fire department, I was, uh, uh, just drawn to what it was and, you know, right about that time backdraft came out. So that kinda glamorized a lot of it and made it look a lot different too. And, uh, being a 19 or 20 year old kid with that big movie out and everything, and being a firefighter, wasn’t such a bad thing as a young.
Dealing a late teen or 20 year old. And I just fell in love with it. I loved helping people after that in a more serious note. I love helping people. I love making a difference and it gave me a lot of purpose that I think I was, uh, I guess I just, I didn’t realize I needed in life, but it certainly, the minute I, I, I got a dose of it.
I realized that’s what I want to do and quickly became a, an EMT and then a paramedic shortly after that. And. And really kind of rocketed through my, my training to get to where I was able to get hired in August of 1991 at countryside fire protection district in Vernon Hills, where I then worked for 21 years before retiring and looking at a Sedona fire.
The fire chief job came up and applied for that and, and, and got it in 2012.
David Hirsch: Awesome. So out of curiosity, how did you meet Christie?
Kris Kazian: So, Christie is interesting. My best friend at the time was married to Christie sister. We were high school buddies. We worked at a gas station right in the middle of town at a full service gas station.
And we worked together at a burger King and he ended up getting married to this, a woman named Sherry Sherry had a sister named Christie Christie, and I met at their wedding just as a. Friends or whatever, nothing. I was married and she was married actually. And years later I was getting divorced and Christie apparently was going to be getting divorced.
I was actually living at Sherry’s house Sherry’s Christy’s sister. And so somewhere in there, we just kinda connected at a mutual event where we were all going to be going out and I was getting divorced. She was getting divorced and it just kind of the stars kind of lined up and. You know, a lot of times people wonder how that works on.
I guess I call it a rebound type situation, but, uh, here we are been married for 18 years. We were, we were dating for over two. So we’ve got 20, you know, 20 years together. And, uh, you know, while the times have been challenging in many ways we smile and look back at those 20 years and just chuckle and all the things we’ve had to deal with and do to get to where we are and persevere.
And it makes us a really strong couple that are very much still in love with each other and happy to be lucky to have found each other.
David Hirsch: That’s terrific. Um, so I know your story a little bit, and you have a very unique story from a father’s perspective, you became a dad as a teenager. You had a second child and then two more children with your wife, Christie.
So why don’t you for our listeners benefit? Tell each of those three parts of the story from a very young age and the middle. Yeah. And then I got to be where you are today.
Kris Kazian: Thank you. So my mother was 16 when she had me, one of her only directives to me as a kid was, do not have a child like I did so young.
She just said don’t, you know, be smart, be smart, be smart. And, uh, so like all good teenage boys. I did muslin and, uh, by, uh, 16, the girl I dated in high school at the time, uh, actually, uh, weren’t dating at the time that I found out she was, she was pregnant. She, uh, was, uh, not happy with me, but, uh, nonetheless, uh, uh, my daughter, Kate was born a week later, one week after I turned 17.
My birthday is August 2nd. Hers is August 9th, 1987, 17 year old going into high, uh, senior year of high school having a child. We, you know, that wasn’t really on the radar at all. Um, actually, um, when, when she was, um, Pregnant, uh, you know, went through all kinds of different emotions and 17 year old, emotional, inability to process such a large situation.
Uh, there was discussion about my daughter being, being put up for adoption. And so, uh, that was a fine decision for me at 17 years old. And so we went through the motions of meeting with the adoption agency and filing the paperwork and filling out a history. And, and, uh, my daughter was born. I went to the hospital.
I got to see her and got to hold her, certainly looked at her for one second, said, wow, that kid looks a lot. Like me. It was an interesting, weird connection. Like, and then, and in a 17 year old brain, you know, I think in my heart, I was kind of like, this is not what I want to do, but at the same time, it was 17 years old.
And I didn’t think I had many options anyway. And at the end of the, I don’t know what I had many options. I was the father. And if that’s what the mother wanted to do, I really felt that that was what was going to happen or what needed to happen or what should happen. Nonetheless, fast forward, about a week, I get a phone call saying that they decided to keep Kate and they were going to raise her.
Um, the mother Manas, her name, uh, Lana was going to raise her and her, her parents would help her and I could be involved or not involved if I didn’t want to be. And while I was a little bit angry at the time, took me a few months to process all that. And. Um, I would say before Christmas, uh, I was, uh, coming over and spending a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon or whatever it was to, you know, be with Kate and hang out with her at, uh, Lana’s house, her parents’ house, and then would work my way into, as time went on, taken her for the afternoon, go to the mall, maybe have her overnight and things like that through our senior year.
So we raised her through senior year and then we both graduated. And, uh, went off to community college. Uh, both of us did, I believe that first year and then her wanna move to, uh, went to school. ISU, I believe is where she went. So then she took Kate with her and then on every other weekend I would be driving down to, uh, 55.
And I forget what the name of the place was. White. White hand, white horse, white fence, white fence, something I don’t really pick up on ensure what I think we’d meet in Shorewood, wherever that was, uh, uh, every other weekend at a, at a restaurant and exchange, you know, on a Friday afternoon, evening and a Sunday night, uh, we we’d make the exchange.
And I spent time with my daughter from, from that point forward and was able to. To be a parent to her, you know, when we were 19 years old and you know, daughters already too. And, you know, I just, it, I was, I brought her to my firefighting, you know, training and, you know, take her into my fire Academy of changing her diaper while we’re learning about ropes and knots or fire stream applications and stuff.
Then I was on the, how I was allowed to do that. But somehow I was, it was my night to watch her and I had. I had drill that night. You had two choices. I go to drill or I’d be with my daughter, but if I could do them both, that’s what was going to happen. And I wasn’t going to not be with my daughter. So that’s my first situation.
And, and, uh, my daughter’s 31. We’ve got a grand son. Noah who is two and I’ve got another son and a grandson, uh, Graham coming in November. Uh, she’s happily married, uh, kind of interesting. She’s my daughter’s married to, uh, one of the girls. I went to high school with one of Lana’s, uh, really good friends in high school.
Um, who didn’t like me very much at the time when, when I was, uh, not being a responsible, uh, soon to be parent. And, uh, as you can imagine, a 16 year old boy might be, and now Kate’s on my daughter’s sister-in-law, there’s a girl. I went to high school with. They got a large family also. So it’s kind of a kind of full circle, kind of interesting the way we’ve all come together.
Lauren and I have maintained friendship throughout the entire situation. There’s always been maybe a struggle here and there, but. We’ve always maintained. Our care of our daughter is the most important thing and we’ve been great friends and she went on to get a master’s degree and she’s very successful working in the Waukegan school district in special ed actually, and a hearing impaired.
So we’ve managed 31 years of this. It’s been, been an amazing ride. I was married after that at some point and had a daughter named Emma. Emma was born in 1995. She’s now 23 years old. And she, uh, this is an awesome kid from the start, a lot of fun, but married at the time. My, my ex wife and I were not married very long.
I started divorce proceedings probably, uh, when she was maybe two and a, maybe two, two and a half, I guess it must’ve been. And we spent two and a half years in divorce court trying to fight for custody of, of Emma. And, uh, I was, uh, I don’t know if the word victorious is the right way to say that, but I, I ended up on the other side of this, uh, having sole custody of, of AMA I raised her and I say, I Christie and I raised her cause Christie was, was there at that time.
And, uh, so we’ve raised her pretty much since she’s been together since she’s been two and a half or so. Um, I had some medical conditions end up in the hospital quite a bit. So, uh, she’s got an enzyme deficiency that. Uh, she can’t process certain types of sugars. So she ended up with seizures and very, very, very sick numerous times.
And some near death experiences took us quite a while to figure out what, what was going on with her. She, now we have some testing done through a biopsy. And so she, uh, she’s doing really well now, but she ends up in an ICU last year, even, and it’s not uncommon for her to, you know, get a, get a cold and end up in the hospital.
And so. But here we are raising a daughter of sole custody of, of a daughter, huge, huge fight, but it was what I believed in. It was in her best interest. And so I fought the good fight and with the help of Christie, we were able to make that successful. And we raised her all the way through her college and she just moved to Michigan for a while and worked at a hockey team in Michigan.
She works in a game day operations. So sports management degrees she has, and she just took a job as a director. At a hockey team in Colorado, kind of got an awesome job. So I’m looking forward to seeing all the great stuff she’s doing and, and, and a great life. She’s, she’s leading in the, in all the work we’ve done to be parents for her.
David Hirsch: Let me just say that that’s remarkable that you became a dad at 17 and the challenges that go along with trying to figure out who you are and. Educating yourself and getting your feet on the ground. You know, the male brain is estimated not to be fully formed until age 25. So, you know, you are operating on a partial brain capacity for probably eight years or so.
I just think that’s a great testimony to the commitment and perseverance that you’ve had. And then to. Have a second child, a second daughter and a B not a single dad, but a fight for custody like you have, and that’d be there, you know, every step of the way for her. And then, um, you and Christie have also had two girls yourself, right?
Kris Kazian: That’s correct. So then Chris and I were married in 2000, just celebrated our 18th year anniversary last week. So we had two daughters. Kate is August 9th. Lexie is August 11th. And Candy’s August 12th. So I’ve got a busy, busy, three of my four kids have birthdays, uh, four days apart, whatever that is. So, um, so August is the fund itself.
It’s a great month, uh, to be talking to you in August. My anniversary is in August. Uh, my birthday’s in August, but my mom’s birthday’s in August. My stepdad’s birthday’s in August. It’s it’s a great month. And I’m honored to be speaking to you about this. So my. So Christie and I get married. You have Lexi in 2002, everything is going great.
Christie’s is very healthy. She’s very meticulous about her eating and exercising and everything, but she’s very small. She’s got a five foot frame and fairly tiny frame at that. And so while we were going through the pregnancy and having our prenatal care and doctor’s visits and such and plan to have a traditional.
Hospital birth somewhere along the way we got into discussions about what about a home birth Kristy’s sister was, was delivered at home, maybe I don’t know, 18 or 20 years before that and was very successful. We’ve talked about that. And we decided that we would do a home birth. So during that decision, and during that process, we chose a doctor, turned out by happenstance at that doctor had delivered her sister 18 or 20 years prior.
We walked in the doctor’s office and we laughed and Christy looked at me as I think that guy delivered Aaron. Oh my gosh.
David Hirsch: What are the odds? Yeah.
Kris Kazian: Look at the birth certificate. Yeah, that’s him. That, that was just a, kind of a sign. We kind of operate our life on signs. You know, the universe tells us a few things on occasion and so it was a sign and we went with that.
Um, it was unfortunate that through that process, uh, and my wife’s small frame, as we really find out later, after doing more research was, was, uh, not able to, to deliver, uh, Lexi. Uh, and so Lexi was stuck in the, in the birth canal, considerable amount of challenges being delivered, ended up being hypoxic.
And through that suffered a brain injury. Uh, the brain injury ends up being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, with significant issues in her life and challenges, but the most beautiful, beautiful baby ever. And we committed at that moment to, uh, to take care of her and give her every chance that we could.
And so we worked incredibly hard at that. So 2002, uh, Lexi was born, as I said, and Alexia passed away in 2004. And then we had Cammie who was born in 2005. Cammie is now in eighth grade and doing wonderful and, uh, and it’s just been a great child and interesting dynamic for Christie and I to have raised another child after having Lexie pass and certainly, uh, created lots of challenges and interesting, uh, Circumstances going through grief and, and all the challenges while being pregnant and then having a baby and all that.
It was, it was a very unique time in 2005 and six and seven. But here we are now in 2018 and she’s 13 years old and doing wonderful. And Chris and I are, are doing great and honored and happy to, to be raising her. And, uh, so that’s my three part story, I guess.
David Hirsch: Wow, amazing. My hats off to you. I just admire the commitment that you’ve had from a very, very young age, becoming a dad at 17 and through the first marriage, the commitment you made to Emma, and then this roller coaster ride.
What I think of as a roller coaster ride, as a result of the complications around Lexi’s birth, her short life, and then, you know, having the blessing again of having a fourth daughter Cammie. So it’s just remarkable. So I’d like to talk about special needs first on a personal level, and then beyond, so before Lexi was born, did you or Christie have any connections to the special needs community?
Kris Kazian: Well, yeah, Christie worked as a feeding and speech therapist, you know, so she went to school for, she started out in adult rehab, so she worked a lot of stroke patients and things like that. Some trauma patients, but mostly a stroke and rehab in a, in a rehab setting. A nursing home type setting. She switched around.
I can’t remember when she switches, I think before Lexi was born, she switched to pediatric speech therapy. And so we definitely, she definitely had a lot of influence with, with children with special needs, but I don’t think I had too much exposure to that only through her. And, uh, I don’t think I had any other real experience or exposure.
David Hirsch: Okay. So Lexi was born as a result of a complicated delivery, which led to the brain injury, the diagnosis of cerebral palsy. When that diagnosis actually came by, what was your original thought or what was going on in your mind at that time?
Kris Kazian: Well, I mean, I have to really, I mean, so you can imagine we live in Liberty at this time.
We’re literally. A half a mile from the hospital. So the plan is that we’re going to, uh, you know, be close, if anything happens where nearby she’s born after. Obviously there’s definitely stress during the delivery, by the doctor. And, uh, here we’re, I’m calling nine one one now, and she, you know, she’s not breathing, I’m doing CPR on my daughter, uh, right there in my bedroom.
Christie’s, you know, trying to figure out what’s going on. Have been, you know, being focused on snatching childbirth has just occurred and, and here we find ourselves. Now I’m at the emergency room. The ambulance takes me and Lexi to the, um, I mean, Lexi to the, uh, to the emergency room. They’re trying to stabilize her.
There’s an amazing doctor. Dr. Rosenberg happens to be in the emergency room. He’s an OB doc. He delivered candy. He’s delivered Noah. Um, my grandson, uh, he’s, he’s just been an amazing doctor for us. And he was huge in that first couple of hours. I was watching every move that, that Lexi was making. And I thought she was fine.
She was moving and it turns out she was having seizures. So didn’t understand, uh, you know, they weren’t typical seizures. I was a paramedic. I know what seizures look like. They were not typical seizures. Uh, but her movements were, were that of, of a seizure. We ended up in the NICU for 28 days down at Evanston hospital.
Uh, we went every day, spent every day there cried every time we left the hospital at night. Um, And we’d be back there first thing in the morning and spent the next, you know, 12, 14 hours there. And then we’d go home, sleep for four or five hours and drive back. It was, uh, it was the craziest 28 days of our life, but to watch Lexi.
Who wasn’t eating at the time by mile, if they’re doing anything, I’ll never forget. The first day we were at got her to eat one ounce, which was 30 CCS. It looked like this ginormous bottle at the time. You know, if you look at it now, it looks like, uh, you know, they’re shot glass. Uh, you know, but that was a big, biggest thing ever that we got her to drink that, and that was.
I don’t know, like a huge, huge deal for us. And so we, it was a learning, all this stuff extremely fast. Um, many, many of the babies, she was a big baby. She was seven pounds. I think 13 ounces. I believe all other babies in the NICU were, were preemies and things like that. So there’s this ginormous baby, you know, these other little tiny, you know, two and three pounders.
And here we are trying to get her to eat and see it and learn about all these things and then realizing the significance of her brain injury while it’s certainly not known that the full magnitude, having a doctor, a neurologist tell you, uh, I remember like it was yesterday saying, just take your daughter home and enjoy her.
I don’t know how long you’re going to have her. She’ll never eat or drink or do anything by mouth. Those she’ll be too fad. And at that moment, my wife and I looked at each other and we said, well, that’s not, we’re going to prove this guy wrong. And so we did everything we could possibly do from that day forward to, to prove him wrong.
And to give Lexi every chance she could get. So whether it was the therapies that she got, whether it was the love and attention that she got from mom being Christie and our families, it was a daily, daily ritual. And I worked a shift, so I worked one day on and two days off. So I, you know, I was able to have my two days off and firstly would, you know, we had to work to make money.
I actually took a second job so we can afford anything we needed for her. I mean, I’ve made a good living, but. All the therapies and medicine and everything is expensive. So I ended up working in a friend of mine’s cabinet making shop to, to make some side money, to be able to afford that and sleep wasn’t really important.
In those years, we just did everything. We could, 24 hours a day to take care of her and give her everything that she needed. And we learned on the fly. I learned on the fly at Christie’s. She just had a little bit more inherent ability, but I was learning everything on the fly and. And work in a credibly, hard to, to give her everything she, she could do to, to show.
And so she ended up eating by mouth while she ate by mouth. And she did really well. Unfortunately she ended up at one point, uh, getting RSV ended up in the hospital while she was in the hospital. Um, they, uh, she had a circulation issue with as part of a brain issue. So she was always cold. One of the nurses put a heating pack on her to warm her up.
She ended up getting third degree burns to both of her legs. Um, ended up having skin graft surgery. And from there that’s when she really, you know, took a turn where she then stopped eating and. And understandably after the trauma she had been through being burned and then also having to go through those incredibly difficult surgeries.
And from that point forward, her, her, it changed her, her path on progress and it was, it just, it took a turn and she ended up, um, passing away and November of 2004, uh, from an asthma aspiration pneumonia. And, uh, so she was two years old and three months. And, uh, I remember every day of those two years and three months, like it was yesterday and we lived just every day for her.
And that’s what a special a parent of a child with special needs because no, he did it like each and every other family person does it. How does a child with special needs
David Hirsch: and it’s remarkable. Um, and if I understood what you’re saying, there was a mint mistake made. They put these heating pads on her directly, correct?
That caused the trauma to her body, their legs specifically. And the irony is you’re a firefighter and your daughter ends up getting third degree burns,
Kris Kazian: correct.
David Hirsch: Through some oversight, you know, in a medical environment. It’s just, Oh my God. I just gives me chills to think about it.
Kris Kazian: Uh, yeah, uh, surreal. I was at the hospital at night when it happened.
I mean, I was sleeping in the bed, you know, and one of those comfortable chairs I have in, uh, in the rooms like that. So yeah, I’d never really got notified that there was a problem. I heard a wholesale of muscle and bustle and I kind of woke up. I’ve been fine. I said, yeah. And then the morning I woke up and said, what is going on with her legs?
Oh, we’re trying to figure that out, sir. And so, yeah, it definitely was, uh, an amazing turn of events and, and. Be a firefighter and have your daughter be burned, certainly was something that wasn’t on my radar by any means.
David Hirsch: Wow. Well, I’m thinking about the advice that you got early on initially from the medical community, which was just enjoy your daughter.
You know, she’s not going to likely be anything, do anything where there’s some other advice that you got along the way that gave you some hope or gave you some insights were inspiring to say, Hey. You know, every day is a gift. Um, you know, no one really knows what the outcome is going to be. Was there anybody that was giving you advice?
Kris Kazian: Oh yeah. Yeah. So the, the doctor that gave us advice and apologize, sending neurologists that are out there, but that’s bedside manner. I’ve many folks. Work with neurologists tend to get that kind of news from, from neurologists that there, I don’t say they have bad bedside manner, but they work in a different environment and they see things just different than, than the human side.
And I apologize, I’m not casting aspersions, but so that moment, uh, the nurses heard that, you know, we were very close with our nurses and many of them that have seen kids come through there, gave us a lot of encouragement. Don’t listen to that. Many kids surprised these doctors and. Yeah, you’re just gonna do your best.
So you guys are doing great work and just assure that we were working hard and doing the right things and advocating for our child. And so I don’t think anyone’s probably said, you know, you’re the best advocate for your child or my life to do that. Cause she’s pretty smart. And so we just, we became the advocates for our child and we fought for what needed to be said or done what was interesting to us to Christie.
And I was. You know, being educated, both as a paramedic and her in the medical field and working in hospitals and things like that, just how many people do not advocate for themselves or know that they can. They just think that the doctor said that. So that’s what you have to, you have to listen to them or you have to take that word as gospel and.
Some of the nurses just said, Hey, keep doing what you’re doing. I think we can make a difference. So we’re friends still with some of our, our nurses from, from, you know, 2002, you know, that’s 16 years ago. And we, you know, through Facebook, right. I have the beauty of Facebook now. And you know, we’ve got a beautiful picture that one of our nurses have an angel that gave to us after she died, you know, came to her.
Her service and gave us a full 18 by 24 framed print of an angel. I mean, so you think about those impacts that we made on people and people made on us, those connections with our nurses. There’s a lot of good people out there. And so listening to people’s advice, taking help from people. That’s one thing that we learned too, is take help.
If you know, some people just take it all on themselves. And Chris and I were able to have family that could, could watch her. So Chris and I went on vacation, you know, marriage maintenance, we call it is so, so important. And someone gave us that tip early on. Take care of yourselves. You can’t take care of Lexi if you’re not taking care of yourself.
And that was a big guiding principle for us. And I think those are some of the big ones that we got from people, and that helped us get through to where we are today and important. That is really
David Hirsch: important. One of the other podcast ads, uh, one of the special fathers network, mentor fathers, Rob Gorski, a dad of three autistic boys in Canton, Ohio.
I remember him saying. But you have to be selfish before you can be selfless, which is another way of stating what you were saying, which is, Hey, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not going to be of any help to anybody else.
Kris Kazian: Absolutely. So very powerful.
David Hirsch: I’m wondering what the impact on Lexia situation.
As a young person for the, those two years, and then beyond now, what impact she’s had on her sisters, Kate, Emma, and Cammie.
Kris Kazian: Well, I think, I think that’s a great question. So one thing we also did and, and right along with, uh, with Rob’s comments, you know, be selfish, we didn’t let her injury or, or, or, uh, situation hold us back.
We took Lexi camping in a tent. We took Lexi to the Cubs game. We took waxy was a typical developing kid. That didn’t have the typical developing skills. We did everything with her. Um, that and we would do, we had her suction machine with, uh, you know, battery supplies. So we are in the car. We could pump, you know, use it on, on camping trips of people and things.
So we, we lived with Lexia and we shared her with people. We met people, we talked to people. We, we let people that might what’s wrong with that little girl, you know, cause she’s wearing a sweater and it’s July out. Why, you know, cause she’s cold. So that openness, that Christie and I had with her and sharing her, her story and her life with people when she was alive.
Has translated into how we, we, our kids also, uh, were affected by it, you know, uh, certainly County wasn’t born, but Cammie knows her sister. We talk about her all the time, even though she’s passed, she knows her just as much as she would if she had gotten to meet her, uh, which is kind of unique. Uh, Emma and Kate.
Have become better people knowing that the challenges that you could have in life. And we took lessons, we didn’t want anything to be wasted, not an opportunity, take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow from and appreciate. I’m very proud of, of all my kids who now try to give back to other people who try to.
Take time when they see someone struggling to know that you got to help people. That’s what makes the world go round. And I think they learned that lesson through Lexi and we have know signs that Lexi’s always around us. The number 11 is our is Lexi’s number. She was born August 11th and she died at one 11 in the morning.
And so 11 and 11 is a popular number for a lot of spiritual or, uh, signs for folks. But we’ve got a lot of them with flexion. Our kids are always sending us a note, Hey, I got table number 11 or whatever it is. So I don’t know. I think the grief process having a lost Lexi is just a whole nother dynamic to this.
Um, the thread, the fragileness of life is so important for families who have children with special needs to understand. And every day is a gift, as you said earlier, and take it as such. And we took it as a gift, not as a punishment. There’s certainly a couple of dark days where we struggled. Why, why, why?
But for the most part, it was, let’s pick her head up and let’s look forward and our daughters have learned that from us. And I think it’s a gift that will get them through life much better than if they didn’t have that experience.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it’s very powerful. Thank you for sharing. Uh, let’s talk about the. Helping from heaven, Lexia KZN foundation, whose mission is to improve the comfort and quality of life for children with special needs. What was the impetus for creating the
Kris Kazian: foundation? So after she died, um, after Lexi died, I really felt.
We got to help other families. We were so fortunate to have family friends. The financial means the, the mental capability of dealing with this incredibly difficult. I don’t want to make it sound like it was easy. We just wanted to help other families. And most of it started really from, we had a lot of equipment therapy equipment that Lexi had, and I didn’t know what to do with it.
It was a. Bought through early intervention, which is a state run program. Some of them not even been used, I don’t think she was, you know, we’re working on getting, it takes a long time to get, so those therapists are working on lining those things up that she was going to need. And I didn’t want to throw it away and I do, you know, sell it on eBay and I didn’t even know what I could do with it.
So we wanted to create an equipment closet so we could give help to other people. And the other, the other part that really was the impetus was, well, let’s see, what’s alive. We would have our therapists that would say. And there’s this really great family that lives, you know, a couple blocks away from you.
They’ve got a similar situation you guys are in. I wish I could connect you. I wish I could give you their number, but I don’t really, I don’t really. Can’t do that cause a HIPAA, you know, and then, but there’s a posted note. You might find on my clipboard, if you, if you wanted to grab it. And so I was like, this is silly, right?
You got this family on the street, that’s suffering just like we are, that’s working through the challenges that are, you know, the struggles and the opportunity to, to create a network. Right. And I gotta worry about you sliding the post it note without the federal government or whoever the HIPAA police coming to get you, you know, like that’s, that’s silly.
And so I thought we’ve got to create a way to network family. So the equipment closet was kinda my first, like let’s find a place so we can get this stuff and, and, and share it and I don’t need it. I can give it and give it away and all that stuff. And then this other piece was this networking piece. And so we wanted to create a network for families.
And so you can share and going on the bus, I couldn’t believe my son, my kid on the bus for the first time. I never imagined letting flexi go on the bus. But at three years old, the kids in that environment would be going to preschool. And I’m like, I can’t imagine a bus pulling up in us, wheeling our daughter on a bus and sending her.
And we were prepping ourselves to how that was going to work. Having this network would have allowed us the chance to talk to other families. Right. So we wanted to create that opportunity for people. And having these networking events that we ended up putting on. And, uh, and then we did some grants and things like that.
For people that just needed something that would improve the comfort and quality of life, whether it was a generator because a kid was on a ventilator and the parents couldn’t sleep at night worrying about if the power went out, whether it was, you know, a. Piece of equipment, whether it was a trip to somewhere.
I mean, it was whatever would improve the comfort and quality of life for our kids. I wasn’t Make-A-Wish by any means it was something totally different. And we got all kinds of different requests and we wanted to improve the comfort and quality of life and make a difference. One of our major focuses is to help.
Bring the families together on three different levels. So of course the child with special needs having an event that’s for them and depending on their capabilities and capacities to have friends that are like them, you know, that they can relate to and outside of school doing something fun. So that’s the first tier.
The second is the sibling, right? So the sibling, the typically developing sibling who gets to see other people who have typical developing siblings, Well, I’m not the only one who has a brother in a wheelchair. I’m not the only one whose brother has a circumstance, whatever it is. And they have this bond now with other typical developing people in similar situations.
And then of course the parents who then can connect with one another and talk at a level that people understand, or if their kid’s having a seizure and they have to stop. Give their kid an injection, or, you know, whatever’s happen in typical situations that it doesn’t go real well all the time. And it’s very difficult.
So families will tend to not want to go out and socialize cause their kid might have a seizure or might have a temper tantrum or whatever’s going on with our kid. And in that world, we don’t miss a beat. They just keep going and talking to each other because everyone gets it. It’s so beautiful to see.
And so this was my therapy. I, after Lexi died was to. Put together this nonprofit and to make a difference in improving the comfort and quality of life for children with special needs is they saw what we’ve done with that organization. Now for the last, whatever it’s been, you know, since 2005, I believe we started
David Hirsch: and that’s remarkable.
And I love the name of the foundation, which is the helping from heaven, Lexie KZN foundation. So that legacy is still present, maybe not physically present in our lives, but the fact that she’s having an impact. No, it’s just, it’s magnificent.
Kris Kazian: It’s interesting. My stepmother, she, when we were naming it, she had said, uh, it was just we helping from heaven.
It doesn’t, you don’t want her name in there. So I just think you should really have her name in there and just keep her name. I’m like, I think that’s a good idea and really great suggestion. I was just hearing her name when people say her name really makes Christie and I really feel. I love hearing her name.
And I think that’s one of the things people get nervous about is smell. If I say her name, it might make you sad. I love hearing her name. And so when I see that in print or I see it and hear it it’s makes me smile. It makes Christie smile and that’s, that’s, she’s alive to us and that’s, that’s beautiful.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I love it. Well, thank you for taking the initiative to do that. Um, it sounds like it’s been therapeutic for you, like you were saying, and you’re having an impact in ways that maybe, you know, in some cases and others, you know, just hear your story and are inspired by it. And, you know, you’ve touched them in a way that you’ll never know it has this ripple effect in society and in people’s lives.
That is. Generational my multigenerational.
Kris Kazian: So I love it. I absolutely, you know, the world’s a beautiful place and I think it’s just, we forget to stop and smell the roses sometimes. And even when you have difficult situations as we did with Lexi, we just weren’t, we weren’t going to let that it wasn’t easy.
I don’t want anyone to think. I’m saying it was easy by any means, but we really had the right mindset and the focus that we want. To make every day count and we want to make everything important in our lives. And it also, it also identify what’s really important. What really is important. Nice, really fancy car, a really big house or a piece of therapy equipment.
So your daughter can maybe walk someday puts it in perspective really fast. Oh yeah.
David Hirsch: Well, if you needed another reminder, thank you. So I’m thinking about advice. What was the most important takeaway that comes to mind when you’re thinking about giving advice to somebody else about raising a child with special
Kris Kazian: needs?
Um, I think my sister-in-law Lindsay, my brother’s wife, when we were in the hospital, she said to Christie and I, you know, people like, like Lexi they’re in heaven and they look down for parents that can provide the best life for that child or for them. And so Lexi chose you as parents. And I think that day was pivotal to me.
Cause there was obviously at the beginning. Why, what happened? Why this, why do we choose this? Why this happened a lot of self doubt. And when she made that comment to me, it stuck to me obviously until today. Does she chose us. And that really changed my perspective as a dad anyway, but she chose me to be her parent.
I come with Christy as a package deal. So I guess she chose Christie too. I don’t know if that’s true, but I think it’s no, of course she chose us both. And that really changed my outlook because there certainly was some, some challenging moments of, you know, how are we going to do this? And what’s the capacity of, of me as a person.
What can I endure? Um, what kind of relationship endure? And that’s always stuck with me. And then a focus point for me is that as you were chosen to, to be that child’s parent and that changes the focus of. Of the wild. Why, why me or those type of pitfalls you can have? So that’s probably one of the most important things I can share, uh, with, with that is you are chosen, you do everything you can do to raise that child.
And everyone has different means and abilities, but you were chosen to, to help that child and be that in that child’s life. So you’re gonna, you’re going to do everything you can do whatever that means. However, that is done to give them the best. They’re going to have and be proud of your child. I think people are, but I think we can tend to hide that child.
There are the labels that, you know, um, you know, the labels that people can get, you know, so I, I appreciate that and use it for your success. So you can comfortably figure out how to get from point a to point B.
David Hirsch: That’s really important one.
Kris Kazian: And the last thing is to get help. To maintain your, your marriage and your relationship.
So Chris and I had plenty of counseling, plenty of therapy. Uh, we went on vacations. We had to go on vacation to have maintenance, man, marriage, maintenance size, keep ourselves focused on ourselves. Otherwise you got so far into every day trying to take care of all these things that you, you grow apart.
And, uh, we just didn’t let that happen. We were very cognizant of that and work extremely hard to. To always find time to get away for a four or five day trip to maintain that connection as husband and wife, because we were so much stronger as husband and wife together than we are if we were with who or not.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s fabulous. Thank you for sharing. And I’m going to go back to the comment you made about being proud of your children. For who they are, not what they do.
Kris Kazian: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: And I know that it’s really easy to sort of get caught up on my son does this, my daughter does that, you know, look at her achievements or his achievements, you know, what school they go to, you know, what type of job do they have?
What type of car do they drive, et cetera. And that seems at some level, all very superficial, right? And we need as parents to celebrate who they are. And it’ll be there for them as opposed to what they’re able to do or not able to do because everybody has different
Kris Kazian: abilities. Absolutely.
David Hirsch: That’s excellent.
Thank you. So why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the special fathers network?
Kris Kazian: I think giving back is such an important part of if no one gave back. Could you imagine the world, if, if no one ever gave back, if we were all siloed into our own worlds and nobody ever reached over and lend a hand to somebody.
I just, I couldn’t imagine that it would not be a great place to live. It wouldn’t be the lifestyle that makes me so happy. I, I love helping people. That’s part of my job. That’s why I love my job, but even so many different levels. So I just, I just love being able to share, um, experiences to talk about them and, and sometimes selfish because there’s, I’m helping somebody else.
They’re helping me. And that’s. You know, I guess the benefit of getting something out of, you know, the hard work you put in is getting something back. It’s not the reason you do it, or I do it, but I learned all the time. If I’m helping somebody, whatever they’re telling me or I’m trying to help them with, they’re teaching me something at the same time, because I’m open to that.
So a chance to share with other dads to be, uh, a dad of a young child or as a young parent myself, and then to go through the situations and now to be blessed with a. You know, 20 years of stability raising some kids and I got four daughters. So I think I did. I’m getting punished for something along the way.
I got a girl dog on top of that. So, I mean, I I’m the, I cry at movies. I cry at songs. My little window is static. Glen don’t cry. This is not even sad. You know, I, I I’m, I’m blessed. I wouldn’t have one to do it any other way. And I just think that I’ve taught my kids all it’s about relationships. Everything happens in this world is because of relationships and relationships are only formed by helping people.
I think that’s just what makes the world go
David Hirsch: round? That’s great. So one of the other, uh, mentor fathers in our network, uh, skip Gianopoulos has four daughters as well. And he describes it as being a minority in a sorority.
Kris Kazian: I love it. I love it. That’s perfect. I’m going to steal that one.
David Hirsch: Let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend, the legendary Wayne Mesmer for putting the two of us in contact with one another.
Kris Kazian: Absolutely. Wayne’s what an amazing guy. He is amazing guy. And so such a small world, right? I think I told you that my wife Christie grew up as friends of his kids. So when I went to a conference and heard Wayne Messmer speak, who I idolized, as he sung the national Anthem, I’m a huge hockey fan. Uh, and I’m an, a Cubs fan too, for that matter, but definitely more hockey fan.
I saw, I met this guy, you know, and I’ll just know his story and, you know, you signed the voice of victory book and he’s like, she’s like Wayne Messmer. I grew up with that guy. He would be singing in his bathroom, making pancakes, you know, him and his wife, Cassie. Uh I’m like really? So then I reached out to him what had married to this girl, you know, her.
Like, Oh my gosh. So then that’s how we really became friends was through the fact that he knew my, my wife, she was a teenager and, you know, Southern sleepovers with his daughters. So me and him are really close. We talk all the time. Now. He obviously has a huge interest in hockey and my daughter works for an NHL team now.
And he’s just a really special man.
David Hirsch: Yep. I agree. So is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up
Kris Kazian: 21st Century Dads is doing some great, amazing work. I’m I’m honored to have been able to have been now connected to you and certainly, uh, the network, anything I could ever do to help make a difference for anybody.
That’s what I’m here for. Keep up the great work. I really love, uh, love the podcasts. Love your mission and your calling. I look forward to staying connected.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you. So if somebody wants information on the helping from heaven, Lexi Kazian foundation, or to make a donation, where would they go or how would they go about doing that?
Kris Kazian: You certainly can visit a helpingfromheaven.org is our website. Certainly can check us out on Facebook and you can always email me at Kris that’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Love to hear from anybody love to be able to help this. We can help in any way, a grower out in the Sedona area. We’d love to say hi you.
So certainly could always catch up and say, I get a visit at the fire station and we’re honored to help anyone we can when we can.
David Hirsch: That’s terrific. Kris, thank you for your time. In many insights as reminder, Kris is just one of the dads. Who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs.
If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation, your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Kris thanks again.
Kris Kazian: Thank you, David. Keep up the great work.
Tom Couch: The Special Father’s Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process.
New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids.
If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And thank you for listening to this Special Father’s Network podcast. Stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network podcast was produced for 21st Century Dads by Couch Audio.
The music was from the soundtrack to the motion picture backdraft by Han Zimmer and Bruce Hornsby. And again, to find out more about the special fathers network, go to 21stcenturydads.org, 21stcenturydads.org.