TAMPA BAY, Fla — A Tampa Bay teen who made it his mission to spread kindness died on Wednesday afternoon. Eric Piburn was in hospice care and surrounded by his family.
The 14-year-old was known across the Tampa Bay area for his kindness and willingness to help children with medical conditions or illnesses.
"He never judged anybody. He just rolled with everybody and always, you know, had a smile on his face for everybody, strangers, family, friends, anybody," said David Piburn, Eric's father.
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Piburn has been featured on ABC Action News several times over the years.
Eric was born with congenital heart defects. He had at least four open heart surgeries. He spent his life in and out of a hospital. He always needed oxygen and a long list of medications to survive. His parents said doctors did not believe Eric would live to see his first birthday.
"He spent the majority of his first year of life in the hospital and then consequently after coming home he would be in and out of the hospital repeatedly for various illnesses and various procedures to help him," said Eric's father.
Every year, Eric invited the entire Tampa Bay community to his birthday party, and hundreds would attend. His family created The Eric Piburn Foundation to raise money to buy toys for children on their birthdays. The Piburn family plans to sell T-shirts to raise money for the foundation.
The back of the shirt reads, "Every kid deserves a toy on their birthday and every toy deserves a kid to play with."
"Eric’s legacy, we’ve always said, he has reached out and taught people about living life to the fullest about giving it forward about being happy no matter what your circumstances are," said Eric's father. "Eric knew no strangers. He made friends with everybody."
Friends have started a fundraiser on Facebook to raise money to pay for funeral expenses. The family also appreciates monetary donations to pay for medical bills. Gift cards to restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations are also appreciated.
"I cannot express my gratitude enough that as a family we have never felt alone," said Eric's dad.
"Eric would just want the entire world to know that he’s watching us. He’s praying that we will continue to be good to each other and happy and show love for our fellow man."