Sept. 28, 2013 — -- A Pennsylvania's family pumpkin spice latte act of kindness in honor of their daughter's death has turned into a viral chain of good deeds and raising awareness for epilepsy.
On Sept. 3, Alyssa O'Neill, 18, texted her mom to ask if they could go to Starbucks the next morning before school so that she could try her first pumpkin spice latte. Her mom "agreed wholeheartedly."
"Unfortunately, my daughter passed away early [the next] morning and we never got a chance to do that for her," Alyssa's dad, Jason O'Neill, told ABCNews.com. Alyssa died of an epileptic seizure.
"After the viewing and the funeral, we spent a few days being extremely sad and hiding from everybody, but we realized that wasn't really helping," he said.
So the family, which includes Alyssa's two younger sisters and brother, headed to an Erie, Penn., Starbucks to fulfill her last wish.
"She really wanted a pumpkin spice latte," her dad remembered thinking. "I know we can't get her one, but we'll each get one and then we'll pay it forward and let some other people enjoy what Alyssa didn't get a chance to have. And maybe they'll spread the kindness and do a nice thing in honor of our daughter."
The family bought 40 pumpkin spice lattes for the next 40 customers and asked that a purple sharpie be used to write #AJO (Alyssa's middle name was Josephine) on each cup. The Starbucks managers were touched by the family's story and ended up donating 50 more free drinks to their effort.
Customers who asked about the #AJO were told Alyssa's story and urged to take a look at her memorial Facebook page that helped spread the word about epilepsy.
Pretty soon, acts of goodwill with the #AJO hashtag were pouring in for the family on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram from all over the world.
"It's kind of turned into a phenomena in Erie and now it's just spread all over the country and it's not about coffee," O'Neill said. "There's people paying off layaways, there's people buying meals, people filling all of the parking meters at local hospitals so people have free parking, putting gift cards under people's windshield wipers."
The family has been shocked by and grateful for all of the support and kindness.
"There's no protocol for grieving when you lose a child and we definitely didn't know what to do, but it has kept us busy and focused," he said. "I think she'd be very proud. She loved helping people."
Alyssa was an ambassador for the Epilepsy Project, a local non-profit, and wanted to be a nurse so that she could help others with epilepsy. She had just started her first semester at Penn State Behrend.
"She was a great big sister and she made us better people," her father said. "She was just so happy and what most people don't see is I think she was probably one of the funniest kids. She made us laugh all the time."
"She never really let the epilepsy or the doctor visits get her down. She would bounce right back," he said, recalling her saying, "I have epilepsy, but I'm not going to let it define who I am. I'm going to define who I am."