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After leukemia, girl's family finds a way to give back
In 2011, Maci Hughes woke up Christmas morning in her room at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital for her third round of chemotherapy.
That was the year she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which required an immediate three-week stay at Mary Bridge, accompanied by her parents who slept in her room.
She was 5 years old.
In the oncology department, Maci’s mom saw a flyer for Festival of Trees, the annual event that raises money for Mary Bridge. She decided to volunteer to help, as a way to take a break from the stress.
"Of course it was gorgeous," said Jessica Hughes. “When I heard about the Festival of Trees, I wanted to try to do something to give back. It was a very emotional time for me. I met many wonderful people, and some were there for similar reasons.”
Today, Maci is 7 years old, and her cancer is in remission. Her last treatment was in September. Her hair is long again.
As a way to help other kids, four generations of Maci’s family decorated a special tree for Festival of Trees. Called “Hidden Treasures of the Sea,” the tree will be auctioned Friday night at the Gala Dinner and Auction. It was sponsored by the family’s restaurant, Branks BBQ in Sumner.
“To me, this isn't about just a Christmas tree, or the holiday itself,” Jessica said. “It's about helping the hospital raise funds so other families can benefit from the same love and attention we received, and of hopes that someone someday can be blessed too.”
On Designer Day, Maci joined her mom Jessica, her grandma Lori Brank, and great-grandma Joan Veatch. The women decorated while Maci danced in circles, and checked out all the other trees. LaConner glass artist Jeffrey Mariott donated 60 handmade ornaments, as well as glass sea creatures that fill a treasure chest.
Grandma Lori Brank had the idea to decorate the tree in honor of Maci.
Brank tells the story of how Maci wasn’t able to start kindergarten right away because her immune system was too low. By the time Maci was ready to attend school in March, she’d lost all of her hair.
“Three Mary Bridge nurses took the time to come out to her school and sit down with the kids who were going to be in her class,” Brank said. “The nurses explained to them what Maci had been through, so they wouldn’t stare at her because she didn’t have any hair.
“The staff at Mary Bridge was so impressive. They’d do anything for you. It was a good experience through a bad one.”
Jessica also had praise for the staff members.
“Mary Bridge made such a positive impact in our lives,” Jessica said. “We are a young family, have goals and dreams like most adults. When our little girl was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, it brought our lives and plans to a halt. No one 'makes plans' to be sick. Mary Bridge has an awesome staff and medical team of doctors and nurses that helped us emotionally and mentally. We put our 'busy lives' on hold while we devoted our time and attention to helping our daughter get better.”
Throughout her treatment, Maci showed courage and strength.
“To me, my daughter has been so very inspiring -- she's strong!” Jessica said. “The first couple of weeks during her initial hospital stay were very difficult. After we came home, she became a little spit fire! She would be receiving so many different doses of medicine, and she would still have something sassy to say, or still be playing with her dolls. Throughout her treatment, we came in contact with many other children, and it always amazed me how their bodies were fighting for life, and they still had a smile on their face. I can only hope that should I ever be faced with a life-threatening illness, I would have the strength and stamina to make a difference.”