Nicholasville teen Reese Kemp uses fame from chronic illness to help others


April 03, 2013|By Kelly McKinney |
Photo by Kelly McKinney/

The terrible disease Reese Kemp has battled his entire life has left him smaller than average. He isn’t quite 5 feet tall and weighs barely more than 80 pounds.

But the 16-year-old has become larger than life.

The West Jessamine High School freshman was given a key to the city by Nicholasville Mayor Russ Meyer, was honored by the Jessamine County Fiscal Court, and has been featured in stories by the Lexington Herald-Leader, WKYT, and Kentucky Sports Radio, among others.

When a piece by the Louisville Courier-Journal was picked up by USA Today, the story of the Nicholasville boy who rubs elbows with several well-known University of Kentucky basketball and baseball players went national.

It might have been the fact that Reese has been visited by Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Terrence Jones, and flown by John Wall to  Washington, D.C. to see a Wizards game that brought Reese’s plight to a national audience, but there’s a lot more to the avid UK fan’s story.


Despite fighting a chronic, incurable disease and losing his father when was 5, Reese has spent much of his free time the last few years figuring out how to help others — and making it happen.

Just before he turned 2, Reese was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a disease that has wreaked havoc on his lungs, pancreas and other organs, and, by the time he was 8, his will to live.

Cystic fibrosis causes the body to produce thick mucus that clogs lungs and blocks the pancreas, making it difficult to absorb nutrients.

The life expectancy of those with the disease is mid-30s.

Reese’s treatment has included breathing treatments and steroids, and lengthy hospital stays that require Reese to stay hooked up 24 hours a day to a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line.

The treatments and coping with the disease are difficult, Reese’s mother, Shantelle Reese, said.
“It’s a hard battle,” she said.

But it was after his father’s death that Reese started saying he didn’t want to live, Shantelle said.
That was four years ago.

Then, when UK players helped turn things around, dragging Reese out of the depression that had overtaken him, it wasn’t long before Reese decided that not only did he want to continue to live; he wanted to do something meaningful with his life, he said.

It all began when he had some extra Big Blue Madness tickets that he gave away, Reese said.
“I really enjoyed giving those away,” he said. “I just wanted to keep helping out in the community.”
Reese’s Resources and Reese’s Bucket List were born.

Reese’s Bucket List, which consists of five goals Reese wishes to accomplish, has become a way to help the community, Reese said.

Reese’s goals on the list are to change the world in a positive way in his limited time here, to help make other terminally-ill children’s dreams come true, to raise awareness and money to fund research to find a cure for cystic fibrosis, to help inspire others to reach their full potential in life, and to complete his own personal bucket list.

 Reese’s Resources is a foundation whose goal is to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis.

Reese’s work with the two foundations began by just giving out tickets to the basketball event but soon expanded to providing Thanksgiving dinners and helping families with Christmas presents, he said.
Last year, Reese’s Resources provided 18 Thanksgiving dinners to families, Reese said.

But there is one family in particular Reese remembers. It was a single mother and her 2- or 3-year-old son. She had recently lost her job, Reese said.

“She was really smiling when we gave her dinner,” he said. “I remember that. That was cool.”

To raise money for the foundations, Reese asks for donations on Facebook pages and sends out tweets, he said. Sometimes he will hold a  party for teenagers in Lexington and charge a $10 admission, all of which goes to his charitable efforts.

Reese and his family still struggle. His condition requires a two-week hospital stay, usually twice a year, when Reese has to stay hooked up to the PICC line that feeds him antibiotics. 

This is the hardest part of the disease, Reese says.

“I can’t do anything during that time,” he said.

Also, just knowing that he could get sick enough to have to go into the hospital at any time is hard, he said.

That also is difficult for his mother.

“I think about it often,” Shantelle said. “It’s become our way of life, and I can’t imagine it being any other way.”

But Reese hasn’t again let the disease stop him from living like it did before. Though it makes him tire easily and he can’t be as physical as he’d like, he loves to play basketball.

He now plays guard on West Jessamine’s basketball team.

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