Carson Swazey, a 19-year-old with nonverbal autism, lost 75 pounds with exercise and a healthy diet. His main motivator? Walking to the post office to pick up mail. But when the P.O. box was empty, he felt sad. So his mom, Amanda Kinney, asked friends and family on social media to send cards.
What happened next renewed her faith in humanity: Her message went viral and people from around the world started sending cards and gifts.
“I just can’t believe how kind everybody has been and the love,” Kinney, 46, a nurse at a cancer center in Alberta, Canada told TODAY Parents. “People are showing him respect and love. It’s beautiful.”
Like many people, Swazey turned to food for comfort when COVID-19 forced life to a standstill.
“He wasn’t going to school anymore and he wasn’t able to volunteer and he just basically was home a lot,” Kinney explained. “He just wanted to eat constantly. I wanted him to be happy and food made him happy and so it just escalated from there.”
Swazey has severe autism and is nonverbal. He can’t read or write and struggled to understand why he couldn’t walk at the mall like he once loved. Kinney saw a photo and realized her son had gained a lot of weight, so she decided he should make some changes to get healthier. He loves meat and cheese, so she had him try the ketogenic diet, and got him a Post Office box that he could walk to daily. She knew in June and July people would send him birthday and graduation cards, and thought that fun mail would get him interested.
“It gives him another task, another opportunity to get out and go for walks,” she said. “When he opened up the little mailbox, it made him smile. And he just seemed happy.”
But then the cards stopped. When he opened the mailbox, his face would fall. Kinney put the request out on Facebook and believed a few of her friends would help. When the letters and gifts started pouring in, she felt overwhelmed by the generosity.
“His quality of life is expanding and it is just wonderful,” she said.
Swazey loves it, too. He’s developed his own way of communicating with his mom and every time he opens the mailbox, reads a card or tears into a package, she sees how thrilled he is.
“He has this little smirk on his face,” Kinney said. “He is taking in every word we say (when we read the cards) and he seems to be paying more attention to this. It’s almost like he knows this is for him and this is his thing and people are trying to connect with him.”
For Kinney the best part is seeing how many people accept her son. She has gotten used to strangers staring and avoiding Swazey in public. But now it feels like so many people want to know more about him.
“All I ever wanted is for him to be embraced in a nurturing, positive community, to feel connected. We're just we've been engulfed by all of the support,” Kinney said. “It’s amazing. I feel so blessed.”
She hopes that they can respond to everyone to show them how much they appreciate the messages. Swazey has been drawing pictures for everyone. But they expect it will take a while. Kinney wants everyone to know how transformative this has been for her son.
“He's doing the best he can right now, and COVID is hard for everybody. But imagine not understanding why you can't go to the pool anymore. Why you can't you go to the library or to the mall?” she said. “Everything is limited for him now and just being able to go for walks is one thing that he can still do that he still likes. And there's a reward for him, and that's his mail.”
People who want to send Swazey mail can send it to:
PO Box 871