Max’s Playground: A small boy’s love story
GLENSHIRE, Calif. andamp;#8212; Swallows flit and swoop in cavorting song against a curtain of blue sky. A gentle breeze warms the morning air. The Glenshire Elementary School kindergarten play area is empty, barren of laughter. Shortening days foretell the coming autumn, when back-to-school chatter and children will fill the grounds.Max Krieg, a precocious little bug of a boy, who loved this playground, who thrived at Glenshire Elementary School, will never play here again.Max, born Max John Krieg, Sept. 18, 2005, died Dec. 2, 2010, surrounded by his loving family.The Kriegs moved from Colorado when the father, Kurt, began with East West Partners and their development team at Northstar. Martha, a stay-at-home mom, instilled core values of love and family unity, gracing her children Hannah and Max with the confidence to be themselves.Max was a boy who often wore his Santa suit, passed down from sister Hannah. andamp;#8220;I told him people might have something to say about it,andamp;#8221; said Martha. andamp;#8220;I asked Max what he would do.andamp;#8221;Max replied, andamp;#8220;I’ll say thank you.andamp;#8221; Martha and Kurt later discussed what Max must have thought of himself in his Santa suit. They decided he thought he was very cool.Max was a boy who knew just what to wear the first day of kindergarten: Tie-dye T-shirt, patterned shorts, his ever-present blue crocs and Santa socks he saved, nice and clean, for two weeks for the momentous occasion.Max was a boy who loved Halloween, pumpkins and Pilgrim hats, and knew he would be dress up as a andamp;#8220;girl witch.andamp;#8221; At a garage sale, a friend held up a crushed velour black jacket for Hannah. Max piped up. It was perfect for his costume. He also discovered a black belt with stars, and the matching black skirt. He even nabbed his mother’s witch hat with streaming gray hair.Max was a young boy with newly acquired glasses. He waited until he got home to put them on, when he could wear an appropriate button-down andamp;#8220;Daddy shirt.andamp;#8221;Max was a boy whose bedroom, colored quilt of orange, red and blue, his pillow with an appliqud andamp;#8220;Max,andamp;#8221; held his works of art. A stick-figure family in a pumpkin patch poster he created is propped against white shelves. A rubber glove he painted green with purple fingernails, to accompany a top hat, turned Max into a monster. Max-made Halloween decorations hang on the windowsill.Max was a boy who went home each day after kindergarten and recreated his day’s work at the family art table.Max was a boy whose little round face with a high, intelligent forehead framed in light brown hair beamed an ear-to-ear grin. Full of love this boy was, for his multitude of friends, for his adored best-bud sister Hannah, for his family. His abundant love is captured in photos, his body posture leans in to hold a friend, his small hand rests on his sister, his diminutive arm wraps tightly around his mother’s neck, a smile so big it squints his eyes and breaks your heart.
Their 2010 Thanksgiving vacation began like most, with sledding, skiing, playdates and a powerful snowstorm. Max seemed a little tired, but he was eating, not the typical sick kid.Thanksgiving morning, Max had a andamp;#8220;croupyandamp;#8221; cough. He ate a bit of popcorn. Martha steamed him in the shower and got him in his jammies. He wore his Pilgrim hat at dinner and fell asleep in his mom’s lap.The next day, Max woke up early with the nagging croupy cough, but settled again after a morning ritual of hot cocoa and an episode of SpongeBob.As Martha prepared breakfast, Max started sighing. A soft, breathy sigh.Martha packed him up for the doctor or emergency room, but before she got far from the Kriegs’ Glenshire home, he was breathless and white. Martha quickly pulled into the temporary fire station, where paramedics scooped him into the ambulance. Max had stopped breathing. The paramedics intubated him, did chest compressions, an ER nurse joined them: a mother of Max’s classmate. They got to the ER at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, where the doctor was a father of Max’s buddy.It was no comfort. Max was in a coma. He never woke up again.andamp;#8220;We’re not sure what happened,andamp;#8221; said Martha. andamp;#8220;It could have been anxiety coupled with strep.andamp;#8221;A battery of tests were done the days before he passed. A multitude of questions could not change the result. Max had suffered a hypoxic brain injury along the line. Somebody was always there with Max, as he lay alternately motionless or wracked with seizures andamp;#8212; swinging the Krieg family from hope to fear. Hannah said, andamp;#8220;I’m sacred, scared he might die.andamp;#8221;
And the final, frightening question as Max lay on life support: andamp;#8220;What do you want to do?andamp;#8221;andamp;#8220;What do you mean? What do you mean andamp;#8216;What do you want to do?’ What would you do?andamp;#8221; asked Martha.The doctor responded he did not have children, but if it were his nephew, he would pull life support. andamp;#8220;It’s no way to live,andamp;#8221; he said.The family wanted to wait, so Max’s extended family could see him and say good-bye. On Wednesday, at 11:30 a.m., doctors asked the Kriegs if they had considered organ donation. andamp;#8220;For a child?andamp;#8221; asked Martha. andamp;#8220;We never even thought about it.andamp;#8221;Max was checking out. His little body was giving up, beeping distress signals through the machines. andamp;#8220;He was telling us he was done,andamp;#8221; said Martha.They made the decision to donate, but had to keep Max going until 4 a.m. andamp;#8220;It was like walking the green mile to our own child’s execution,andamp;#8221; Martha recalled. andamp;#8220;It’s so messed up, when you pull life support, the heart keeps beating for half an hour.andamp;#8221; Any more, and the organs are unusable.andamp;#8220;He had to die, it was the most messed up thing,andamp;#8221; she said. The family made a memory box, with a footprint, a hand print, a snippet of hair. They laid with him, held him. Then he was gone, as he lay in his family’s arms, his lips a purple blue.Max donated his kidneys and cornea. The adult recipients are doing well, and back to work.andamp;#8220;It doesn’t change how you feel, being an educated, compassionate person, to donate organs,andamp;#8221; Martha explained. andamp;#8220;At first I was disappointed they did not go to a child. But Hannah said, andamp;#8216;My little brother helped adults. How cool is that?’andamp;#8221;When the Kriegs knew Max wasn’t going to make it, a big network of adults wanted to help in some way. andamp;#8220;There wasn’t a damn thing anyone could do,andamp;#8221; Martha said.
The Max Krieg Memorial Fund, through the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, has raised $70,000 to date. The Kriegs wanted to enhance Glenshire Elementary School, where Max was a big part before he even entered kindergarten, waiting for his older sister Hannah at her classroom. Terrina Woodard, Max’s kindergarten teacher, had this to say at his memorial service:andamp;#8220;I love Max. I have been waiting for him to come to kindergarten since I first met him when he was 2. He helped his mom escort his beautiful sister to my classroom on her first day of kindergarten. Our love affairs, Martha, Hannah and Max, truly began on that dayandamp;#8230;andamp;#8221;Max was a boy who touched many hearts, from visiting family friends to classmates to teachers. The Kriegs and teachers at Glenshire Elementary School discussed what best to do for the school, and decided to enhance the kindergarten playground. Where Max loved the swings most.They earmarked $50,000 and things are progressing quickly. Rob Koster, project manager for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District got things going. Janet Fike spoke with teachers, and from that, her architectural designs were drawn.andamp;#8220;You’d think you could get a bomb playground (for $50,000), but it’s expensive,andamp;#8221; said Martha.But bomb it will be. andamp;#8220;It’s something we’ve wanted to do, play is such an important part of mental development,andamp;#8221; said Kathleen Gauthier, GES principal.The enclosed space that was a teacher’s smoking lounge will become a sand box. A landscaped water feature will tuck in against the school’s wall, keeping the trees that grow there now. A new geodesic dome-shaped climbing structure and a disc swing that holds multiple children are also part of the plan. To have rubber matting rather than tan bark for a safe andamp;#8220;fall zoneandamp;#8221; created a financial snag. It would cost $15,000, and the Kriegs wanted to earmark $20,000 of the TTCF fund for other school programs. Modifications will also be made on the andamp;#8220;bigandamp;#8221; playground.A community garage sale organized by Jen Ellermeyer and Tasha Matt netted $4,700; the Truckee Optimist Club donated $5,000; the Truckee Noon Club Rotary, $1,000; Excellence in Education gave $2,000 for the water feature; the Glenshire Elementary School PTO and East West Partners also donated to the fund. The rubber matting is a go.andamp;#8220;Volunteers have been coming out of the woodwork,andamp;#8221; said Martha. andamp;#8220;In this economy, everybody is doing this for free, this community is so incredible it just blows me away.andamp;#8221;A tile memorial wall is also in the works, with Teresa Wik of T-Pots Pottery donating the clay. Hannah made a tile of herself and Max paddleboarding. andamp;#8220;We talk a lot about Max,andamp;#8221; Martha said. andamp;#8220;So many families don’t speak to each other. It is such a loss. Nobody knows our pain, Kurt, Hannah and I. I don’t want anybody to forget about Max.andamp;#8221;
Thank you to Heavy Equipment, Sage Survey, Al Pombo, Advanced Asphalt, Aspen Developers, Truckee Fence Co., TTL, Girl Scout Troop 136, Fiori Garden Architecture, Shelton andamp; Bacon, Vaille Construction, Inc., TNT Materials, Advanced Asphalt, Hall’s Excavation, Upton Construction, Truckee Rents, the Van Loons, the Lopezs, the Meyers, Mike Taylor, Waltmans, Real Graphics.