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Remembering Maddie James

WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Five-year-old Maddie James's life was cut short but her memory lives on.

noel-besuzzi-bosh-courtes
Maddie/Courtesy of Noel Besuzzi of Bosh Images

The Maddie James Foundation & Hope 4 Hanna
Help two charities by joining The Maddie James
Foundation for the Hope 4 Hanna event in San
Clemente on October 9, 2011. Hope 4 Hanna,
inspired by Hanna Belden, who was diagnosed
with autism after her second birthday, helps
families cope with the disease and focuses on
finding the cause, treatments and cure for autism.
The event will consist of a 5K/10K run/walk, 1/2K
kids run, informational booths, and more. When
registering and you have the option of joining an
existing team, you may join MaddieJames4Hanna.
Registration fees will help both charities.
hope4hanna.com :: maddiejamesfoundation.org
:: caringbridge.org/visit/madeleinejames/journal

As Maddie James was snorkeling in the pristine waters off the island of Molokini, Hawaii, she was ecstatic. Embracing the freedom of the water and creatures of the sea, her love of the ocean shined through her – and her love for it was what defined her. This trip turned out to be part of Maddie’s last days of life.

Five-year-old Maddie had a caring and mesmerizing soul that attracted all who met her. Her intelligence and sense of humor were only two of her many other memorable attributes.

“She was an amazing and magnetic child,” her father, Collie, says admiringly. And a “sponge that would take everything in,” says her mother, Kajsa, recalling how Maddie was always willing to learn.
 
Collie and Kajsa cherished every moment they had with Maddie and never expected to discover that their only child would be dying soon.

Noticing tiredness and other strange symptoms in her daughter, Kajsa took Maddie to the doctor. On January 16, 2011, Maddie was diagnosed with diffuse instrinsic pontine glioma, an inoperable brain tumor with a zero percent survival rate. She was given only a few months to live. Overwhelmed with shock and fear, the Jameses still maintained their strength for their daughter, vowing that Maddie’s last days would be lived to the fullest and that they would greatly honor her memory.

And that’s where Maddie’s love for the ocean came in. Maddie’s favorite place was the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, a venue that teaches students about the ocean, the creatures in it and more. So, Collie and Kajsa started The Maddie James Foundation in February 2011 to help build the Seaside Learning Center at the institute, a place where students can learn about other intriguing aspects of the ocean. The Jameses set a goal to raise the remaining $1 million needed to complete the center, which they hoped to name after Maddie, by June 11, 2011 – what would have been her sixth birthday.

Along with the trip to Hawaii, Maddie spent her remaining days enjoying trips to SeaWorld and Disneyland with her family, as well as experiencing an underwater submarine tour. But, her ability to function as a normal girl began to deteriorate, due to the loss of motor control and fatigue that accompany the disease. On March 13, 2011, Maddie passed away peacefully at home with her parents by her side.

Collie and Kajsa continued to raise the money, striving to fulfill their promise of keeping their daughter’s memory alive. Miraculously, on May 20, 2011, they achieved their goal. They had received the money in less than three months thanks to the constant support from people all over the world, fundraisers and donations through The Maddie James Foundation website.

Construction for the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center will begin in fall 2011, with a scheduled opening for early 2012. The center will educate K-12 students and other visitors about oceanography, environmental science and maritime history. It will contain an Ocean Science Dock with science-related learning stations, an Oceanographic Technology Lab with an underwater submarine and a growing pen for raising sea bass, and a Maritime History Pier that will allow students to experiment with historically authentic equipment and participate in activities such as raising and lowering sails, working a capstan and more. Maddie would have loved it.

Although The Maddie James Foundation has succeeded in raising the necessary funds for the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center, Collie and Kajsa still hope to honor Maddie by continuing to contribute to the ongoing production of the learning center through future fundraisers. Donations to the website are always welcome. A Mile for Maddie fundraising walk will occur annually, and the upcoming event is on May 19, 2012.

“We’re here to stay,” says Kajsa. And so is Maddie.



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