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Winning Spirit: Helping Tacey

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Each month, hundreds and hundreds of letters come through the Customer Relations Department. But it’s not every day that one of these letters offers the opportunity to change a life.

Customer Relations and Rapid Rewards Writing Representative, Laura Anstine, had only been working for Southwest Airlines a few months when she received one such letter. The letter came from the Raulerson family, and it shared the story of their 12-year-old daughter, Tacey, who suffers from a rare, incurable cancer called Retinoblastoma, which has left her blind. Tacey’s mother wasn’t asking for any special handout, but instead, she simply wanted to share her daughter’s story.

After years of fighting to save her vision, the doctors and the Raulersons knew that in order to save her life, Tacey’s eye would need to be removed. Only weeks after her surgery, Tacey rode her first horse, and immediately, a new passion was fueled. Riding horses was Tacey’s escape, and she became particularly involved with rodeos.

Tammy’s mother wrote Southwest expressing her daughter’s greatest wish: to travel to Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo. In her letter, Tammy wrote, “Cancer may have taken her sight, but it did not take her courage.”  Despite the family’s best efforts to save money and sacrifice all extra expenses, medical emergencies drew their funds empty, and they found themselves in a desperate place attempting to make their daughter’s wish come true.

Laura finished reading the letter teary-eyed, and immediately knew she had to do something. She first went to her supervisor, Brice Taylor, and pleaded with him to help.

“Please tell me we can do something,” Anstine remembers asking.

Brice advised Laura to visit with Customer Relations Senior Representative, Kim Seale, who had helped Customers in similar situations before. Laura remembers Seale’s words:

“This is a test of your Southwest Spirit,” Seale told Anstine. “This is why we hired you.

Now, what do you want to do?”

Anstine replied, “I’m getting them to Las Vegas.”

But, getting the Raulerson family to Las Vegas was only just the beginning. With Kim as her guide, Laura spent the next few days working with her Supervisors and Station Employees to make the Raulerson’s trip an unforgettable experience.

With the support of her Leaders, Laura was able to cover all airfare costs for the Raulerson family’s trip to Las Vegas. They had simply asked for a discount on airfare, but Laura was determined to go above and beyond.

After explaining Tacey’s story to the stations, the Ground Operations Employees took it from there. As soon as the Raulerson family entered the Austin airport, the family was treated like royalty.  Austin Employees, including Rex Snell, Customer Service Manager, met the family at the entrance to the airport with candy and a stuffed horse for Tacey. They also escorted the family to their gate and completed the send off with a water salute.

Tacey in AUS

Completely unbeknownst to Laura, the Flight Attendants introduced Tacey on her flight to Vegas. The flight was full with other cowboys also traveling to the National Finals Rodeo, and a couple of Customers were particularly touched by Tacey’s story. So much so, that the Customers started a donations envelope to give to Tacey’s family. By the time the envelope reached the front of the plane, the Customers onboard had raised over $500 for the Raulerson family. Tacey later used some of the money to purchase a coveted Charlie 1 Horse she had been asking for to match her rodeo outfits.

Tacey's Hat

Upon arriving in Las Vegas, Tacey and her family continued to be showered with surprises. With the help of Eric Woodson, Marketing Planning and Performance Manager, the Raulersons continued to receive special attention, making the trip an unforgettable experience for Tacey. Even after she had returned home, Tacey continued to receive presents from her Southwest Airlines and rodeo friends, including trophy spurs and logo golf balls (which her father was especially excited about!), and a signed poster from the National Finals Rodeo.

Tammy Raulerson, Tacey’s mother, reflected on their experience:

“We all go through our own journeys dealing with situations.  While ours has been a very difficult journey, it has also been the most uplifting, incredible experience of my life!  Our family doesn’t believe in chance happenings or coincidences.  We believe everything happens for a reason.  God puts special people in our paths and our lives to help open doors and windows for Tacey.  We have met incredible people and had awesome experiences because of the paths we have had to transverse.  As much as we dislike (or despise) this disease, it has made Tacey who she is today!” 

Raulersons on Plane

Laura’s career at Southwest Airlines will never be the same, knowing she has the support of her Team and her Leaders to help someone in need. And the Raulerson’s family will always hold a special place in their hearts for the airline that made their daughter’s dreams come true. 

23 Comments
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While this is a great story, it would be even better if Southwest showed compassion more often. My daughters grandmother was dying and I called to see if I could use MY unused flight credits for her flight to go see her one last time. I was told there is no way to allow her to use my credits. I find this hard to believe, considering that someone at another extension told me I should be able to. Once the money is paid why does it even matter who uses the funds???
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Thank you for sharing the story and I am glad Southwest could make this wish come true. I travel a lot for work and I try to use Southwest whenever I can. Part of the reason I use Southwest so much is because of the staff you employ. Southwest employees are the most pleasant in the industry and seem grateful we are flying with Southwest. Some other airlines treat you like they are doing us a favor by allowing us to fly with them. Keep up the good work.
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Southwest, you are the best!!!!
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I have been a Southwest Airline advocate for years. My biggest kudo was the fact that I was able to cancel flights for members of my family immediately following 911 and the money was there for future flights at absolutely no cost to me!! Outstanding!
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That is why we are and always will be the LUV airline!!!
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Well done Southwest. Well done indeed.
Active Member
What a beautiful story! We are so fortunate to have awesome Employees like Laura who see the opportunity to go above and beyond as a way to Share the Southwest Spirit. She definitely showed her Servant's Heart throughout the very involved process of making such a memorable experience for Tacey and her parents. It is such a privilege to work at a Company that allows and encourages its Employees to demonstrate the Legendary LUV for which we are known, and I am certain that the Raulerson family was exceedingly blessed by Laura's Positively Outrageous Service. I salute my Coworker for having done an exemplary job!
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What an awesome story! It doesn't surprise me at all that SWA would do something so great. With tears in my eyes I write that in October they also helped me make major changes for I flight that I booked to Las Vegas. My 15 year old nephew passed away and without thinking I booked a flight as fast as I could for the next day. After booking I realized I needed my husband to go with me. I knew it would be a difficult time. I had a trip booked for an anniversary party that our children were having for us and because of the wonderful policy that SWA has about changing and canceling flights, the agent that I talked to was able to get cancel the flight and get my husband on and re-book our other flight for later dates. I know that this sounds confusing but the agent was so calm through it all. She was so kind and comforting at a very sad time for me. I tell everyone to fly Southwest! It is our favorite airline. Thank you.
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I want to say "thank you" to SWA for helping the Raulerson family. I too have had the pleasure of meeting the Rulerson family and like your staff, I also fell in love with them (it's hard not to if you've met them). However, this isn't about the great service you did for them, it's about the service you did for so many others with that one act of kindness. You see, having had the opportunity to witness her impact on others first hand, I can tell you you, in essence, you have affected hundreds to thousands of others. She is an inspiration and testament to " the power of positive thinking". She and her family refuse to "give" cancer anything, it may have taken her eyesight but it will never take her spirit for life. Hopefully, SWA will continue to help people,(like the Raulersons), who also, help people. Job well done Southwest Airlines. Annette Veal Administraor Dierksen Hospice
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We always fly SWA whenever we can. We love the service, the on time flights and the people who work there. It also helps that our bags fly free and we can cancel a flight and pick it up later in the year! (It happens!) We only wish that you flew EVERYWHERE that we need to go. Hugs to all of you at SWA!!!
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This is why I fly Southwest. I love your airlines and I love your employees. Thanks for all you do.
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Beautiful story. Southwest employees have so much spirit.
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I agree with you Patty, i to at one time called Southwest after my brother passed in May, I was short on funds to pay full price for the ticket round trip, and I asked the agent if there was any kind of discount for a situation like this, and I was told no. i think Southwest should offer discounted prices to families in situations like yours and mine. No other airline does, so who wouldn't want to be the first to jump on it for families. It is not only good business and bring more people to Southwest but it also is compassion for us the American people. Sincerely Michelle Medina
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That's why I Luv Southwest Airlines!
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This is exactly why I fly Southwest. Most of their employees are like this, though, I have experienced a few that should be working for this wonderful airline company. I love the publicity campaign SW is using. I promote SW every time I mention flying. I just wish they flew into Richmond, VA. That's when I can't use them. I hope with their merger, things might change. I like to accumulate points for flights. By the way - thanks for the free drink tickets I got in the mail this week! SWA all the WAY!
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This is why I LUV the LUV airline. From the top down, you are a one-of-a-kind company whose employees have compassion. And that's rare these days. Thank you for sharing.
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This is what makes working with southwest great,when you know that you have the support of co-workers who are all positive and can change even one life in such a dramatic way,well if its not perfect its pretty darn close
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Way to go TACEY! We use them as our primary air line! It is our first choice! We have been blessed to have had several very touching experiences with the pilots and have a at least 10 photos of Karli in the Cock pits with the captains on some of her flights for treatment for the same cancer Tacey has! We love Southwest, esp in comparison with the other airlines!
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Great story. I fly with my daughter to a childrens hospital every few months. We stay at a Ronald McDonald House. We used the frequent flyer program to help as this was all we were told Southwest could do for us. I am saddened to say that we can no longer fly Southwest as they have stopped the flight we flew. How dissapointing as it was always full! My daughter hates this and it is going to cost us a lot moremoney and stress to get her the care due to having to switch airlines. The Southwest crew was always the best! She even would take time to thank them by making the crew cards. It helped her take her mind off the stresses of appointments and surgery. Wish they would bring the flight back. We will sadly miss them. 😞
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I love flying Southwest, I'm a rapid rewards member and a southwest airlines visa card holder for reasons like this. God bless all of southwest employees. Now if you would only fly to Hawaii
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In my next attempt to become a part of LUV family , answering human department representative question " Why SouthWest? " , i can give a lot of legit reasons " Why? " But, instead, i will just give a reference to this Tacey story, saying " that is why..." It explain everything about LUV.
Active Member
Even though I've never worked for Southwest and don't fly very often, it's because of personal experiences and stories like this that I'll never hesitate to consider Southwest as part of my family. Paul In CRP
New Arrival
My husband and I had the priviledge of being passengers on the same flight to Las Vegas with the Raulerson family. We had an opportunity to visit with them prior to drparture . I have collected autographs of rodeo cowboys for years. I now have a very treasured autograph added to my collection...Tacey Raulerson. She is a delightful young lady and not only gave me an autographed photo of herself but gave me a hug as well. This is truly a delightful family and they wete a joy to meet.