Liz Steele says God works in strange ways, and when you get picked to do something, you just do it.

Steele, 50, of Dexter, knew she was targeted six weeks ago when she walked into Buddies Groceries in Oakland.

There on the counter was a donation can for Kayla Veilleux, 14, who needs a bone marrow transplant for aplastic anemia, a disease that has caused her body to stop producing enough new blood cells.

Liz dropped some money into the can but then went a step further. She asked the store clerk to let Veilleux and her family know that if they needed help, they should call her. She left her name and phone number.

While she did not know Kayla’s family, she sensed they might need some help, and she knew she was the best one to give it.

Her own daughter, Lindsey, had a bone marrow transplant 18 years ago for leukemia and not only survived, but is doing very well at 22. In fact, she graduated from college last year.

But the bone marrow transplant process was anything but easy. Listening to doctors talk about complicated medical issues, paying bills, traveling to and from the Boston hospital and constant stress were overwhelming. Liz recalled all this as she stood there at Buddies, looking at the photo of Kayla’s pretty face pasted on the donation can.

Two days later, Kayla’s mother, Venita Veilleux, called Liz. They made an immediate connection. Liz visited Kayla, Venita and Kayla’s father, Bob, and helped them understand the diagnosis better. She visits them regularly now and plans to drive them to an appointment Tuesday at Boston’s Children’s Hospital.

“She’s like part of the family now,” Venita said.

Liz also is helping the family financially, setting up a fund at the Bank of Maine for Kayla, and organizing a spaghetti supper, a dinner-dance, an auction and other fundraising events to help defray medical costs.

“When we went through it, we didn’t know anything,” Liz recalled of her own daughter’s ordeal years ago. “One friend did a car wash benefit for us. People don’t know the expenses that are needed when someone goes through this.”

As she spoke, she was sitting in Veilleux’s mobile home in Oakland, a thunderstorm cracking outside and rain pelting hard against the windows.

Kayla, wearing red fleece reindeer pajamas, leaned into her mother and gave her a hug.

Venita, 62, and Bob, 63, explained that they are really Kayla’s biological grandparents. They adopted both Kayla and her older sister, Jasmine, now 21, when Kayla was only 5 months old.

When Kayla was 1, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent a 21-hour surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital to remove part of it.

“They said it was the size of an orange and they could only get 40 percent of it at the time because of where it was located,” Venita said.

Shortly after that surgery, Kayla lost much of the sight in her left eye; she sees only shadows in that eye now. Four years later, she underwent a second surgery. Now the tumor is the size of a quarter.

The aplastic anemia, diagnosed several months ago, resulted from the radiation and chemotherapy Kayla had, they said. She will have the bone marrow transplant sometime this summer at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her sister, Jasmine, will be the donor. Liz will be there to support the family. She knows that having an extra set of ears around when doctors are talking is important.

“When they told me my daughter had leukemia, my brain shut down. Your brain’s absorbing everything, but you don’t realize it. So it helps if there’s somebody there to ask questions that they don’t think to ask or they don’t know.

“Like I tell Venita: we belong to a special club. We were just picked, and it is a close-knit club.”

Liz hadn’t been planning to go to Buddies grocery store that day six weeks ago. She had been in Waterville and was headed to Oakland to visit a friend. Instead of getting the bread at a larger store nearby, she instead decided to avoid the traffic and go to Buddies when she got to Oakland.

“God does things perfectly,” she said. “He knows where we should be. His plan is not ours, and he puts us with the right people.”

Kayla is glad Liz is helping her and her family.

“She makes me happy when she says she’s going to come with us,” Kayla said, referring to the hospital trip. “And she writes cards to me.”

A recent graduate of Messalonskee Middle School’s eighth grade, Kayla is a brave girl, and clearly surrounded by love.

She said she is not afraid because her parents take turns at night, staying with her until she falls asleep.

“They hug me and talk to me,” she said, “and we pray for the stuff that’s going on.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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