2017 Pittsburgher of the Year: Kelly Frey
No one would blame the veteran WTAE anchor if she took time off while undergoing intensive breast cancer treatment. Instead, she chose to use humor and grace to educate and inspire others, all while in the public eye.
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Family is of utmost importance to Frey, who shares Bennett, 8, and Marena, 6, with her husband, Jason Luhn. Their home on the West End has been renovated to accommodate Bennett’s special needs
Building a Platform
Michelle Wright, Frey’s longtime co-anchor and close friend, applauds Frey’s decision to be open with her battles. Weeks prior to her on-air announcement, Frey told Wright and co-worker Ashley Dougherty she had breast cancer as they were in the ABC affiliate station’s makeup room getting ready to go live. Wright, stunned by the news, recalls how tough that day was for all of them. Dougherty says Frey, who she describes as a caretaker and the person they all go to for advice, wound up comforting them.
“You’ve seen how people have really responded, and I think she’s been overwhelmed by being able to help so many people,” Wright says.
Luhn, a pilot with the 171st Air Refueling Wing — the Air National Guard Unit located in Coraopolis — didn’t bat an eye at his wife’s decision to go public with her battles. Anything different would have been unlike her.
“She doesn’t give second thought to her job when it comes to providing help for other people or just using her experience as a resource for other people,” he says. “Innate within her is a desire to help.”
It isn’t the first time Frey has been so open with her life. Close to a decade ago, Frey let the public know that she was carrying her first baby, but that the pregnancy was thought to be terminal. Doctors urged Frey and Luhn to end the pregnancy, but the couple ultimately decided Frey would carry the baby to term. Despite the predictions, Bennett, who has Dandy-Walker syndrome — a congenital brain malformation — and hydrocephalus, was born stronger than expected.
Those first few years with Bennett, who has major physical and cognitive developmental delays, were a roller coaster, with many trips to the emergency room as he suffered seizure after seizure. After Bennett’s birth, Frey went part time at the news station in order to devote more time to his care. She also has become an advocate for children with special needs and their parents.
David Lott, principal at Pittsburgh Pioneer Education Center in Brookline, where Bennett, now 8, is a student, says Frey brings her well-documented energy to the school, where she has been an active member of the Parent Teacher Organization and — whether it’s chaperoning a school dance or reading Dr. Seuss books to students — often volunteers her time.
Although she has had to take a step back from her involvement, Lott says one of Frey’s more recent causes has been advocating for a therapy pool for students at the school, which serves students with special needs.
“Any time you call Kelly and it’s for the kids, she’s been there,” Lott says. “I really can’t say enough. She is truly a fighter. When she gets involved, and she has a cause she wants to pursue, she’s a fighter.”