Thank you for visiting the Team #MaddieStrong fundraising page for the 2019 Dempsey Challenge!
Our team is raising money for the Dempsey Center, a Maine-based nonprofit organization with locations in Lewiston and South Portland, in honor of my daughter, Maddie Smart, who we tragically lost to leukemia in April 2019.
Why We're Running #MaddieStrong?
If a picture speaks a thousand words, then a life, and especially one as beautiful and inspiring as Maddie's, stretches the imagination. To put such beauty into words seems futile, yet that is what I will at least briefly try to do here.
Maddie was always a bright light, but never more so than after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in March 2018. Faced with a cancer diagnosis, the full radiance of her character was shining.
While she was likely frightened by the narrow path she found herself on, there was not a single day she hung her head. There were gloomy days, for sure, mostly while isolated in a hospital room or stuck in our apartment while her immune system came back. No surprise. She was young and wanted to live her life, which is exactly what she did every chance she got.
Within a week of being discharged from Maine Med in late April 2018, after her initial chemo treatments, she was in Vermont with friends, then at Haverford College for Jessie's graduation. Same thing after her consolidation chemo before her bone marrow transplant in late May, where, within a couple days, she was hanging out at Willard Beach in Portland, ME, followed by a long stay in Vermont, where she celebrated the joys of summer with friends and family.
Immediately after reaching Day 100 post bone marrow transplant, Maddie toasted her 21st birthday with her first (legal ) drink and plenty of helium-filled balloons. Over the next four months, she caught her first NHL hockey game in Montreal with Nick (her boyfriend of three years), returned to her beloved Lafayette College for the Spring 2019 semester, was initiated into the Pi Beta Phi sorority, and attended a glamorous date party with Nick and her Lafayette pals, before heading home for Spring Break.
Unfortunately, even Maddie's super-human strength was not be enough to get her through her epic battle with AML, which came back in March 2019. She weathered another intense chemotherapy and was doing well recovering at Maine Med, until we received a midnight call on April 10th that her breathing was so labored and heart rate so elevated that they needed to move her to the special care unit (SCU) and put her on a ventilator to give her body a chance to recover from the stress.
By the time Maria arrived at the SCU, Maddie was fully sedated. Over the next week, they reduced her sedation and tested her breathing without the ventilator’s assistance. This also allowed Maddie to communicate a bit, although she couldn’t talk due to the ventilator, so mostly short sentences written on a pad of paper. First thing on her mind? When she could get off the ventilator; followed by Nick and her schoolwork (she had been remotely continuing her classes at Lafayette).
She was doing well and making progress, but that was sadly not to last.
Maddie caught a cold. Parainfluenza to be exact, which was wreaking havoc on Maddie's lungs. As you’ve probably heard at some point in your life, there’s no cure for the common cold. The only effective defense is our immune system. For most people, our immune system kicks in without thinking and weathers the storm. That's not the case for more vulnerable groups, e.g., young children, older people and people with compromised immune systems, like Maddie.
Within a week, her lungs were simply being overwhelmed by the cold, to the point that there was nothing more the incredible SCU team at Maine Med could do to save her. Nor could her white blood cells, which had yet to show back up after the chemo.
Perhaps her new bone marrow needed a couple more days. Or maybe it was literally wiped out by the chemo. We’ll never know, but there was nothing more Maddie could do. If there were, we know she would have.
In the end, it turned out that Maddie wasn't a bright light after all. She was more of a supernova, which Neil deGrasse Tyson, the famous astrophysicist, described as "so luminous, it can be seen across billions of light years."
While we desperately miss Maddie, it gives us at least some comfort knowing she went out with such a Maddie-esque bang.