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Maddie Celebrates her 18th Birthday in Paris

As an active teenager, Maddie was passionate about running, cheerleading, shopping and traveling.  She also enjoyed volunteering in her community.  At Johnson High School, Maddie was on the cheerleading squad and her older brother—on the football team.  Between the two of them, their parents were constantly busy shuttling she and her brother to one activity or another.

On March 19, 2016, everything about Maddie’s life abruptly changed. Maddie and her mom were shopping in Target when Maddie began complaining of an excruciating headache, which she compared to an icicle jabbing her in the eye. This time the pain was decidedly more intense than the nagging headaches she had been experiencing off and on for nearly three weeks. They headed immediately to the emergency room.

A CT scan in the ER confirmed Maddie’s mom’s worst fear. Not only did Maddie have a brain tumor, doctors diagnosed her with grade 3 ependymoma, the worst possible brain tumor. Immediately following the diagnosis, Maddie was airlifted to Children’s Hospital of Atlanta. Three days later, her medical team performed a delicate six-hour surgical procedure to remove the tumor and save Maddie’s life.

In the midst of treatment, Maddie was visited by a social worker who first spoke to her and her family about Make-A-Wish Georgia. The timing of the referral couldn’t have been more perfect. After the trauma of brain surgery and the long weeks apart from family and friends while undergoing treatment, Maddie was sorely in need of something positive and exciting to renew her spirit. From Maddie’s perspective, cancer was finally becoming the catalyst for some good in her life. 

It didn’t take Maddie long to decide on a heartfelt wish.  Long enamored of fashion and always eager to travel, Maddie wished to go to Paris—“a place that sparks wonder and imagination.” A place she felt would begin to heal her and her family.

Maddie's wish day came, and she, her mom and dad, and “BFF” (who had been by her side during her last week of treatment) headed to Paris, France, for a once-in-a-lifetime European excursion. A three-day pass to ride the Hop On-Hop Off bus afforded the opportunity to see and visit some of the historic city’s most famous landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Champs-Élysées. While in Paris, Maddie celebrated her 18th birthday with a shopping excursion and a half-day tour of Versailles, that included a glamorous fashion photo shoot. 

In reflecting on her wish experience afterwards, Maddie shared: 

You see Paris in picture books, but to see it in reality is breathtaking. The Eiffel Tower (which was massive), Notre Dame, the cafés, cobblestone streets, and bakeries along the way; I just can’t put it into words. The highlight of my wish was celebrating my 18th birthday in Palace of Versailles. A birthday that just two years ago, I didn’t know I would get to celebrate. To become an adult in Paris and have my dreams come to life right in front of my eyes was a truly life-changing moment. It was a full circle moment for me. I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I was out of place but in a really good way. The days in Paris healed my soul, mended my heart and restored my purpose.

Because of the incredible support of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Maddie was able to experience a joy that had been missing since her diagnosis, heal with her family that was by her side through it all and create memories that will last a lifetime! 

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