In August 2009, Maggie, a third-grader at Falling Spring Elementary School, was diagnosed with hystiocytosis, a rare blood disease that has destroyed vertebrae in her back and caused extreme pain throughout her body.
“Some cases, it’s not serious or threatening, and obviously, in her case, it was in her vertebrae … not good,” Karen Patterson said of her daughter’s disease, adding that research of the disease is still relatively new for doctors.
Despite lengthy hospital stays, extensive medical treatments, chemotherapy and pain that, at times, got so bad that she couldn’t even hold a pencil to do schoolwork, Karen said Maggie’s spirit has been unwavering.
That smile beamed Sunday afternoon as person after person stopped to meet Maggie and her family prior to the start of a Shippensburg University two-mile walk/run event to benefit the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps support families with children stricken with cancer.
Hosted by the SU women’s lacrosse team and Tau Kappa women’s athletic fraternity, the run, dubbed “Fighting to Knock Out Pediatric Cancer,” drew more than 200 participants to Heiges Field House on Sunday.
Mia Hall, head coach of the women’s lacrosse team, said she met the Pattersons last summer at a lacrosse clinic at the Chambersburg Rec Center. After speaking with Karen Patterson at the clinic, Hall said she and her team immediately wanted to help.
“Our hearts went out to them,” said Karen Schnurr, a senior captain on the women’s lacrosse team.
Based on participation, sponsor donations and a donation from the SU women’s basketball team, Hall estimated that they raised between $4,500 and $5,000 for the Four Diamonds Fund.
“It makes you feel warm and tingly inside,” Hall said before Sunday’s run. “Our girls were on board with it from the moment I told them the story. ... It really brings our team together and it’s absolutely bringing our community together.”
The event brought together participants from every SU athletic team, as well as numerous other student organizations, families, friends and other members of the community.
Tyler Burkhart, a sophomore at SU and a member of the Theta Xi fraternity, took part in the run with many of his fraternity brothers.
“We think it’s a good cause and wanted to show our support,” Burkhart said, still out of breath after crossing the finish line.
Later on, Maggie walked — and sometimes even ran — the course with her grandfather, Jerry Keyser. The duo crossed the finish line together and Maggie sat down for a drink of water.
After weeks of chemotherapy that ultimately made her too sick to continue, Maggie was cleared recently by doctors to take part in physical activity, her mom said. Maggie and her 9-year-old sister Katie enjoy playing lacrosse together, but it has been difficult with Maggie’s condition.
“The doctor said ‘let her be a kid now,’” Karen Patterson said. “She has a real problem with her stamina at this point, but she’s five months out of chemo. It’s going to come back (her stamina). Anything we can to get her going and doing — she’ll be playing lacrosse again.”
Karen Patterson praised the support from the community, as well as the SU students.
“The fact that all these college kids, for the vast majority, want to stand up and do something, it’s absolutely incredible,” she said. “You can’t say enough about them. You can’t.”
Above everything else, the money raised for the Four Diamonds Fund is paramount. Based at the Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center, the organization’s ultimate goal is to “conquer childhood cancer” through research, as well as supporting families with ailing children.
“It’s an amazing family,” Karen Patterson said. “(They give) anything they think is necessary for the family, not just the patient — for the patient’s well-being.”
The fund helps families pay for medical costs that aren’t covered by insurance and issues vouchers for families so they can stay with their children in the hospital.
“The bills are astronomical,” said Karen Patterson, adding that she regularly drove from Chambersburg to Hershey to visit Maggie during an extended stay.
“They’ve saved me so many thousands and thousands of dollars, easily,” she said.
The fund also helps pay for specialized staff, which has played a big role in Maggie’s recent improvements, her mother said. Karen Patterson said she never cried in front of her daughter before this past Christmas, when Maggie told her mother that she had no pain in her back.
“It was the best Christmas present ever and steadily she’s been improving since then,” she said. “They gave me my child back.”