'To Help Kids Just Like Me'

May 31, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Dasher Green Elementary School third-grader Ashley Wall looked like any other happy-go-lucky 7-year-old, roller-skating through her neighborhood on July 27, 1992. The next day, she was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness.

Two bone marrow transplants and nearly two years later, the 9-year-old Owen Brown village resident still is struggling to conquer the acute myelocytic leukemia that has invaded her body.

Ashley has exhibited such spirit in fighting the disease, and her family has shown such strong support, that the Johns Hopkins Children's Center has selected her to serve as one of two ambassadors for the 11th annual WMAR-TV Children's Miracle Network Telethon, which will air from 9 p.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday.

"I know what it's like to be sick. I want to be able to raise money to help kids just like me," said Ashley, who is recovering from her second bone marrow transplant, which was performed May 5 at the University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C..

As of Friday, it was uncertain whether Ashley would be healthy enough to travel to Baltimore for the 21-hour telethon to raise money for the Children's Center, Maryland's only comprehensive acute-care hospital for children.

Depending on her condition, Ashley might make the trip as an outpatient of the Children's Center. If she can't, the Children's Center and the television station will try to call her periodically during the broadcast or arrange a live remote with a North Carolina station, said Debbie Bangledorf, a media relations representative for the Children's Center.

"Even when she doesn't feel her best, she seems interested in her hospital surroundings and manages to brighten our day," said Children's Center nurse Tammy Scott about Ashley's hospital stays and visits.

The Hopkins telethon is part of a national telethon for 181 children's hospitals in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia and Jamaica. In choosing telethon ambassadors, the center searched for articulate, outgoing children who wouldn't be afraid in front of the camera, Ms. Bangledorf said.

Ashley's mother, Evelyn Wall, has been with her daughter since late April, when Ashley checked into the University of North Carolina Hospital for four days of chemotherapy treatment and four days of radiation to eradicate her unhealthy bone marrow before receiving the transplanted bone marrow of her 6-year-old brother, Jonathan.

"Her outlook is positive," said Ms. Wall. "She feels like she's OK now, that she'll be all right forever. That's the way we all look at it.

"She's very courageous. She's glad she has a brother that matches, and she just hopes and prays for all the other children to get better too."

Ashley was stricken with fever and dizziness while roller-skating that summer night two years ago. Blood work showed that her white cell counts were abnormally high, and she immediately became a patient at the Children's Center.

She received a bone marrow transplant from Jonathan in December 1992 at the Children's Center and enjoyed a year in remission until her white cell counts again were detected at high levels in February.

Until the relapse, she had attended school every day during this school year and had shown no outward signs of illness, Ms. Wall said.

Children's Center doctors recommended that Ashley receive her second transplant at the North Carolina hospital to try an alternative treatment.

Her father, Fred, and Jonathan, a kindergarten student at Dasher Green, have been making the five-hour drive from Columbia to Chapel Hill on weekends. Most costs, except travel, have been covered by insurance, Ms. Wall said.

Ms. Wall said Ashley is a "happy, very loving child" who likes playing with friends, cooking, swimming, organizing neighborhood clubs and going to church. She's also a fighter, Ms. Wall said.

"We knew the transplant would be very intense, that it would hit her hard, but if it kills the leukemia, it will all be worth it," Ms. Wall said. "This summer, she'll be playing with all her friends and she'll be doing fine."

Ms. Wall, who also has a 3-month-old son, Justin, said she's grateful for the help the family has received from Dasher Green Elementary staff and PTA, the Columbia Baptist Fellowship and other churches and neighbors.

"It's an awful thing to have happen, but I'll tell you, when something like this happens, there's a lot of love out there," she said. "Everyone has been reaching out, and it does help."

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