Community rallies around child with cancer (5/6/10)

May 6, 2010

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

For the past six weeks, Williston resident Jamie Vaughan has spent nearly every night, and most of her waking hours, at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.


    Courtesy photo
Maria Luise Vaughan, 2, wears a paper hat she made. Maria was diagnosed with cancer in March, but seems to be responding well to treatment.

Her daughter, Maria Luise Vaughan, 2, is going through her second round of chemotherapy.

“She did really good this round,” Vaughan said, sitting on the end of Maria’s hospital bed Monday morning.

Maria, dressed in a flowery pink t-shirt, was focused on a Tinkerbell DVD.

“The first round she was really sick,” she said. “She didn’t handle it as well as this round, but she’s been pretty tired.”

Maria was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in March. Doctors at Fletcher Allen were able to remove the tumor from her brain, but the cancer had already spread to her spine.

Vaughan and her husband Kevin chose a type of chemotherapy called Head Start, which began with an intensive week of daily treatment. The initial treatment is followed by three three-week sessions where she gets chemotherapy on Mondays. She stays in the hospital for the full three weeks so doctors can monitor her vitals.

Maria seems to be responding well to the treatment, Vaughan said. A recent scan shows that the largest tumor in Maria’s spine, which the doctors described as the size of two chickpeas, has disappeared.

“We framed this, and put it in our house,” Vaughan said of the scan.

Vaughan is hoping to take Maria home this weekend for a break before the third round of chemo begins.

“She’s a tough little kid and I’ve got my fingers crossed and we’re praying that she gets through this,” said Maria’s grandfather, Paul Greco. “It’s been pretty tough on her and pretty tough on the rest of the family.”

Vaughan said she and her husband, as well as Maria’s brother, Dominic Greco, 9, are doing better than they were, though things are still hard on them.

Greco said the response from the community, however, has been “heartwarming.”

Several of Vaughan’s relatives and friends have held fund-raisers, and someone Vaughan has never met arranged a softball tournament and dance, set for this weekend. A Facebook page for Maria, called Helping Maria Luise, already has more than 1,600 fans.

“You never expect to be in this situation, and then when you are, you find out you’re not alone,” Greco said.

Vaughan said the community support has been “crazy.”

While Vaughan said Maria has good medical coverage and many of her expenses are covered, some things are not. Vaughan quit her job in a medical billing office several months ago, and the family relies on her husband’s income. She said the money raised has helped with medical bills, as well as family expenses, such as rent, bills and food.

“You obviously never think that something like this is going to happen to you,” Vaughan said. “It just makes you want to be a better person knowing that people who don’t even know you are giving you money and emailing you and sending your their stories.”

Vaughan said the family is working on setting up a fund for other families going through the same thing, and all the money left over when the family finishes their ordeal will go to that.

The fund is “for people who, if this happens to them, can’t pay their rent or can’t make their car payment,” Vaughan said. “This is our little way of giving it back.”

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