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Tribute fundraiser nets $20,000 for leukemia research
Photo courtesy of HeARTs for Art -- HeARTs for Art, a fundraiser created in honor of 10-year-old Samantha Schmidt, donates a check of more than $20,000 to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth for research into acute myeloid leukemia, the same disease that cut Samantha's life short at the beginning of the year. From left; Daniel Schmidt (Samantha's brother), Peggy Schmidt, Perry Schmidt, Dwight Debenport, Terri Akkerman (Samantha's grandmother), Karen Debenport, Annika Hundtofte, Ruby Kiel, Leigh Moulden, Madeline Moulden, Estee Kiel, Julie Kiel, Hannah Debenport, Daniella Debenport.
Though Samantha Schmidt can no longer grace her family with the sound of her laughter or the touch of her hand, her spirit continues to inspire members of her community.
On March 7, a check for more than $20,000 raised in honor of the former Story Elementary student was presented to Cook Children's Medical in Fort Worth.
As was Samantha's wish, every cent of the funds raised will go toward research into acute myeloid leukemia, the same disease that struck the 10-year-old in July 2011 and took her life less than three months ago.
The money was raised by friends of the Schmidt family through HeARTs for Art, an art-themed fundraiser and silent auction held at the Anna Drive recreation hall on Feb. 4.
About 100 donated items, ranging from a framed Amanda Dunbar print donated by the artist herself to Samsung phones and tablets, were either auctioned or raffled to raise the money.
Prints of one of Samantha's own paintings were sold for $25 each, selling out two 100-copy print runs. Samantha's 8-year-old brother, Daniel, sold specialty bags of Legos, earning $450.
The event, which drew 183 bidders, took only three weeks to plan, said Julie Kiel, a friend of the Schmidts who helped organize the event. It was promoted through social media, email and word-of-mouth alone, she said.
"We really strongly feel that the lord had a big part in it -- that he just put it in people's hearts," she said.
Samantha's parents, Perry and Peggy, learned their daughter had an early form of leukemia in June 2011. Doctors initially told them a bone marrow transplant would give their daughter a 70-percent chance of successfully fighting off the disease, a procedure she underwent at Cook Children's in August.
The leukemia returned several weeks after the transplant, and Samantha started chemotherapy that fall. Hopes were high after the treatment, and Samantha was even able to come home from the hospital in time for Christmas before her second round of chemo.
On Dec. 27, 2011, however, a bone marrow biopsy revealed Samantha's leukemia level had jumped from 0.4 percent to the 15-to 20-percent range.
The Schmidts were faced with two devastating options: move to a harsher six-week chemotherapy treatment that could cause organ failure or death, or take Samantha back home with oral chemotherapy in hopes of extending her life as much as possible without severe side effects.
"It's not a decision anyone should have to make," Peggy said.
On Dec. 30, 2011, Samantha's parents decided to bring her home. They began to help her fulfill some of her wishes, arranging for a personal meeting with Dunbar and getting a puppy. But the question of what would happen next was never far.
"While she was home, we talked a lot about our faith and about heaven and how we hoped she didn't go first, but what that would be like," Peggy said. "We told her over and over again that she wouldn't be scared."
A few weeks after leaving the hospital, Samantha began to experience severe pain. A subsequent clinic appointment revealed her leukemia levels had quadrupled. On Jan. 30, just a few short days after a visit from her friends and extended family, Samantha died, her parents and brother at her side.
"She was just a little girl," Perry said. "She just had so much going for her. She did good at school. She seemed to have a great perspective on life. She wasn't 10 in her attitude. She was always worried, caring about other people and she had a better perspective on life than a lot of people I know."
During the illness, Samantha discovered a talent for painting and drawing with the help of an art therapist at the hospital, an interest the Schmidts picked up on right away. When the topic of the fundraiser appeared, art was settled as the theme, as was the cause for the event -- research into pediatric leukemia.
The fundraiser wasn't the only source of donations for the Schmidts. Members of their church, Christ the Servant Lutheran, donated between $5,000 and $6,000 in gift cards for gasoline and meals for the constant trips to the hospital in Fort Worth. Members of Girl Scout Unit 105 even organized a blood drive that was so successful donors had to be turned away.
The contributions don't end there. One of Samantha's friends raised $230 with a lemonade stand. A member of the church preschool contacted Brett Favre and arranged for a personal phone call from the NFL star directly to Samantha.
"We had such an incredible support mechanism," Perry said. "I don't know how we could have ever done this without them."
There has been talk among organizers of making HeARTs for Art an annual event, and the Schmidts are considering publishing a collection of Samantha's poems as a therapy tool for other children stricken by life-threatening diseases.
"I fully believe that something [more] will happen. I don't know what. But too many incredible things have happened for it to all be chance," Perry said.
Though she still feels sorrow at the loss of her daughter, Peggy said she is thankful for the outpouring of support.
"We were fortunate to go through it, as awful and heartbreaking as it is, with an amazing church family, an amazing family and an incredible community that stepped up without us even asking," Peggy said.