Penn Hills embraced 6-year-old Trey Mitlo throughout cancer battle
The Mitlos haven’t had a single lasagna dropped at their doorstep in the week since 6-year-old Trey died — and that’s OK.
Instead, the family has received a steady stream of notes, prayers and well-timed acts of kindness that have built what they hope will be Trey’s legacy — one that brought a community together and inspired a culture of love and kindness that’s more layered than any casserole.
Trey Mitlo died Nov. 5 of cancer that he battled for four of his six years. He is survived by his father, Jay; mother, Rachel; brother, Joe, 11; and sister, Bella, 9, who say they’ve been embraced by the Penn Hills community in their time of need.
“Am I humbled? Yes. Am I blessed? Yes. But surprised? Not necessarily. I know how love works, and I know the people of Penn Hills,” Jay Mitlo said.
While Trey was sick, Penn Hills community members put together multiple fundraisers, placed signs on the church where Jay Mitlo is pastor, put in calls for prayers for Trey to people all over the world and even funded a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida for the entire Mitlo family.
“Trey’s role from God was so specific,” he said. “He gave everyone an ideal to strive toward.”
Many individuals wrote to the Mitlos to say how Trey had an impact on them and how he will continue to do so.
While Trey’s battle is complete, his journey and impact have just begun — that was the sentiment of many who posted to Jay Mitlo’s blog.
More than 1,200 people attended Trey’s viewing in November, and the turnout at his father’s Sunday sermon at Faith Community Church days after Trey died was so large, it was standing room only at the usually small, budding church.
“And I know a lot of those people don’t usually go to church,” the pastor said. “I’m a great preacher, but let’s be honest, not that great. That was a show of love.”
He said Trey’s diagnosis kicked his acts of love into overdrive. He attended more funerals, reached out to strangers and brought his philosophy of loving one another into his sermons each week.
The Penn Hills community came to know the Mitlos through the schools, Jay Mitlo’s position as pastor and girls volleyball coach for Penn Hills High School, and a blog he has maintained called “We Have Today.”
The blog, started in 2012, chronicled Trey’s illness and painted a picture of why many have grown to know him as “Young Warrior.”
Despite the severity of Trey’s cancer, neuroblastoma, his father said Trey rarely was in pain. He said doctors marveled at Trey’s ability to run around the hospital waiting room while waiting for an emergency blood transfusion, hang upside-down in the doctor’s office when he had a collapsed lung and remain continually more interested in Captain America than his failing health.
But while the blog discussed bright moments, it also tackled the dark ones, too.
“I’ve been open, honest, vulnerable about this,” Jay Mitlo said, which allowed the community to react in meaningful and personal ways to the family’s tragedy.
He said Trey didn’t know what cancer was or that he had it. But he did know that he was a rock star, thanks to fundraisers and the amount of attention he got from nearly everyone he met.
But while the rest of Trey’s family felt the love of the community, Trey didn’t notice special treatment. “He was really in his own little world,” his father said.
The pastor said that even when Trey met Penguins star Sidney Crosby in the team’s locker room, he took it in stride.
“I asked him, ‘Do you want to meet Sidney Crosby,’ and he said, ‘Nah,’” Jay Mitlo said. “He was like ‘Does Sidney Crosby want to meet me?’”
The pastor said he hopes the love the community showed Trey in the past four years continues in new ways and spills over into other factions of their lives.
“I know it sounds so cliché and trite, but really, all you need is love,” he said. “Everyone is somebody’s Trey.”
Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7845 or [email protected].