Honoring a special little girl

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2011

By Shavonne Potts
CHINA GROVE — Just before the holidays Ashleigh Higgins’ family thought she was suffering an ear infection. Then around Christmas Eve, the young girl had problems walking and her family thought she was having a stroke.
Ashleigh, 3, was diagnosed with stage III Anaplastic Astrocytoma, a brain tumor more commonly found in men and women in their 30s to 50s.
Sen. Ted Kennedy died in 2009 of the same brain tumor.
Ashleigh never made it to celebrate her fourth birthday. She died June 4, 2010, just six months after the diagnosis.
“She wa having a lot of ear infections. Her walking was getting worse and she was walking into walls and falling down a lot,” said April Smith, Ashleigh’s mother.
Tests at both Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital and Levine Children’s Hospital confirmed the tumor.
“It is very rare for kids. It was a very aggressive tumor. She did not have it long,” April said.
So for months the girl underwent chemotherapy and radiation. But because of her age, Ashleigh could only receive a certain amount of chemo and radiation.
Doctors were unable to operate. The tumor was close to the based of Ashleigh’s skull, it was too risky. It was too late — the tumor was the size of a gof ball.
Ashleigh Higgins lived only a short time, but her life impacted so many.
April was pregnant at the time, and Ashleigh was the first to see Ayden when he was born. Although Ashleigh was too weak to go outside to play, she held her brother and helped feed him, April said.
When April reflects on the child she lost, she remembers the child she has.
“She would be mad if I gave up,” April said of Ashleigh.
Her family struggled to deal with her illness and her subsequent death.
Eric Smith, the young girl’s uncle, created a page on the social networking site Facebook as a way to connect friends and family on her hospital visits and chemotherapy/radiation treatments and upon her death as a way to cope and remember the “little angel.”
When Smith completed the page and word spread, it had more than 2,000 friends.
“We learned a lot in those six months,” Eric Smith said.
The family had people from all over the world connecting with them through Facebook, some who had loved ones fighting cancer.
Ashleigh’s Foundation
After Ashleigh’s death, Eric Smith was left with all of this knowledge about Anaplastic Astrocytoma and feelings about losing his niece at so young an age. He knew there were other families going to through the same. Eric came up with Ashleigh’s Angels Foundation, an organization he created to be a place to benefit research efforts, where families who have children undergoing brain cancer, specifically those with Anaplastic Astrocytoma, could turn.
Eric wants the foundation to be a place people can send prayer requests, seek some financial assistance and be a support system for families.
“We don’t want to start too big,” he said.
Eric has partnered with the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital and Levine Children’s Hospital for fundraising opportunities.
“It’s such a good thing. Ashleigh would want to help raise awareness to help find a cure for this cancer,” said Chris, Ashleigh’s father.
Watching his daughter undergo treatment for a brain tumor was “one of the hardest things I ever had to do,” he said.
The next fundraising event will be the second annual golf tournament at McCanless Golf Club, Aug. 20 with a 2 p.m. shotgun start. To participate in the tournament each person pays $45 with a captains choice. Registration ends Aug. 8.
There are still openings for teams and opportunities for sponsorship.
The tournament will benefit Ashleigh’s Angels, Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital and Levine Children’s Hospital.
The foundation is always selling T-shirts and bracelets with the foundation logo on them.
There are future fundraisers in the works including a Zumbathon.
“We are looking into magnets and jewelry,” Eric said.
For more information about Ashleigh’s Angels and other fundraisers go to www.ashleighsangels.com.