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Inspired by Russell Wilson, a local Value Village worker helps strangers in need

(Clockwise from Left) John Sires, James Whitney, Denai Smith and baby Kailey. (Photo courtesy of James Whitney)

Denai Smith and John Sires were driving from their home in Lynden, Washington to Seattle Children’s Hospital to visit their infant daughter when the used car they had purchased only 22 hours earlier broke down.

“Not even ten minutes before the car broke down, my friend had called me and said, ‘I hope you didn’t buy that Honda. That girl knew she was selling you a bad car.'”Denai told me. “I got off the phone with her and all of a sudden…BOOM! The car blew up.”

“Cloud of smoke, we pull over to the side of the road,” John chimes in. “I see this guy pull behind us wearing a trench coat and shorts. I didn’t know what to do. She likes to watch those murder shows. So trench coat, side of the road, no one can here you scream, you know?”

The man in the trench coat was James Whitney, who was driving from his Bothell home to his job at a Seattle Value Village. He wouldn’t normally stop, but:

“I listen to Ron and Don a lot and I hear stories about Oso, Tent City. I just hear a lot about people coming together for others in a less than optimal situation and rallying around them to make sure that everything ends up okay.”

So James decided to help Denai and John.

“I called in sick to work and then John was like, ‘Hey, if we could just get to Seattle Children’s Hospital,’ and I was like, ‘Cool, let’s get out of here.’ They got in my car and within a couple miles we were all laughing and joking around. We got to Seattle Children’s Hospital and that’s when I met Kailey.”

Baby Kailey was born on January 30, 2014, but nine days after she came home from the hospital John and Denai noticed she was breathing funny. She was rushed to Seattle Children’s and has been there ever since.

“We just found out she has nemaline rod myopathy,” says John. “It’s a centrally located muscular disease. She breaths on her own but she doesn’t take big enough breaths and she doesn’t exhale enough. So after an amount of time she starts to poison herself with carbon monoxide.”

Meeting Kailey, and seeing what pain John and Denai have gone through, really touched James. And he was a bit dumbstruck that the people he randomly decided to help had a child at Seattle Children’s.

“My girlfriend just couldn’t stand the Seahawks,” says James. “I mean, she just hated football. So I was trying to convince her to be into the game enough to let me watch it. And so I looked up Russell Wilson online and I found this video of him at Seattle Children’s hospital. I watched it with her. By the end of the video, it was the one with the girl who made that wallet and he still carries it. She’s just sobbing and I’m holding her, like, what did I just do? And I’m like, ‘Do you like the Seahawks now?’ And she’s like, (crying) ‘Yeah, I like the Seahawks now!’ And I’m like, ‘Do you like Russell Wilson?’ ‘Yes, I do, yes!’ She’s just like, ‘We need to go to Seattle Children’s Hospital and help.”

So the day after meeting John, Denai and Kailey, James created a GoFundMe page to raise money to get the family a new car.

“So I made a post to Russell Wilson’s page, kind of challenging people to feel the same way that I felt and be a part of this. And people stepped up. Within a week the money that you guys paid to get your new car was recouped, it was covered.”

At the time of this interview, James had raised $1,900, which is $600 more than the car cost. But the couple drives down to Seattle four or five days a week, driving up to two hours each way, to visit Kailey, so James wanted them to have a little extra cushion.

“Stuff like this, I wouldn’t think would ever happen to me,” says John. “Some random would come to the rescue, you know. But no, it was really cool. I’m trying to cling onto it because every trip down here costs money and it’s been really helpful.”

John, Denai and James instantly bonded and have formed a genuine friendship.

“Money is comforting and money helps but it’s not what people need,” says James. “What people really need is friendship and community. That’s what I’ve got out of this and I hope that’s what they get out of this. I can’t imagine going through so much, or maybe I can imagine it and I remember not having that help, or that feeling like anyone cares. So I just wanted them to feel like people in Seattle rally around each other.”

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