So Other Kids Don’t Get Sick
While on vacation in Minnesota, Lucas resident Peggy Schmidt said her nine-year-old daughter, Samantha, had gotten sick with what Peggy thought was a side-effect of allergy drainage. The night before they were to fly home, Samantha complained of her chest hurting, which Peggy believed to be the result of her vomiting quite a bit. When they returned home, Peggy took Samantha to her doctor because she thought Samantha was probably dehydrated and needed fluids. The doctor said that Samantha had lost 10 pounds since her last visit, they were sent to Children’s Medical Center in Plano to get fluids. The emergency room doctor at Children’s said that Samantha looked green and ran tests. Peggy called her husband Perry, not particularly worried, but just to let him know they were in the emergency room and to come by if he got a chance. Perry, Peggy and Samantha were in a room when a nurse came in to set up videos for Samantha to watch and said, “Mom and dad can wait in the hallway.” Peggy offered to help set up the videos, but the nurse insisted they wait in the hallway. A child oncologist met them in the hallway and took them to an empty room. That is when their new reality began. Perry and Peggy were told by the doctor that they saw leukemia cells in the tests they ran. The next day they did a bone marrow biopsy and found AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) and were transferred to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. They were told that Samantha had MDS (Myelodysplasia Syndrome) which is pre-leukemia and is very rare in children. MDS, Peggy informed, is usually a secondary cancer found in adults. The disease had been caught very early. They were told they were in good shape and that the treatment for MDS is bone marrow transplant. None of their family was a bone marrow match; they found a match in umbilical cord blood located in England.
Peggy explained that before the diagnosis, Samantha was a caring, happy energetic little girl. “She was very loving.” They had just moved to Lucas from Allen. She received her first bone marrow treatment at Cook Children’s Medical Center on what would have been her first day of fifth grade at Hart Elementary. Peggy said, “She did so well during the transplant.” Samantha was in isolation from Aug. to Dec., and then discharged to the Ronald McDonald House in Ft. Worth where she spiked a fever a couple of days later. After two weeks, she was completely relapsed with what Peggy describes as, “Full blown AML.” Their goal was to get into remission so they could do a second bone marrow transplant.
At Christmas, Samantha was finally allowed to go home for four weeks. They spent the time making memories in their new home in Lucas. Her leukemia cells tripled. During this time, family friends were discussing ideas for a hope project. Because Samantha loved art, they wanted the project to have an artistic element and include music and other activities. They name the group heARTS for ART. Peggy remembers a conversation when she asked Samantha, “If we were to make any money at this event, who should we give it to?” Samantha said, with a tilted head and expression of “duh”, “To kids who have leukemia. So other kids don’t have to get sick.”
Samantha was not able to attend the heARTS for ART event because it was held the day after her funeral. Samantha died on Jan. 30, 2012, her funeral was Feb. 3 and the event was Feb. 4.
Perry and Peggy attended the very first heARTS for ART which was held in Allen. Peggy said, “The place was packed. People came and came and came. It was the most healing thing we could have possibly done.” That year they raised $21K, which they donated to Cook Children’s Medical Center to be used for leukemia research. They set goals for heARTS for ART: become a 501c3, donate $100K to be used for children’s leukemia research and support local families who are currently fighting leukemia by giving them gift cards to purchase gasoline. They have been able to reach each of these goals and more.
Regarding how she felt when she first learned of Samantha’s diagnosis, Peggy said, “I was numb. I had supported a friend whose child had cancer, so I knew a little about childhood cancer. But, you never think this will happen to your kid. I just tried to breathe, tried to put one foot in front of the other and figure out what comes next.” The first thing Samantha said when she found out about her diagnosis was, “How do you spell leukemia?” During so much of the time Samantha spent fighting leukemia, the word ‘cancer’ had not been used. It wasn’t until one day, many days after the diagnosis, that Peggy and Samantha were talking about the friend whose child died of cancer did Samantha say, “You mean I have cancer?!”
Samantha was offered a wish from Make-A-Wish® Foundation. She wished for a family trip to Hawaii. The foundation was in the midst of planning the trip, but it didn’t happen fast enough and Samantha didn’t get her wish. Peggy said, “Someday we will take our kids to Hawaii and I’ll write her name on the beach in Hawaii.”
Peggy said before this experience, she never realized the impact of nurses and doctors. She said, “They have such a hard job, but they are so good. They loved Samantha and took such good care of her. Child after child they do that, knowing they will win some and lose some.”
Regarding what saddened Samantha during her fight, Peggy said, “Not knowing. Our faith is very important. We talked a lot about heaven. She was an artist. I always told her that she would be able to paint with colors she couldn’t even imagine. I now admire sunsets and think of her, that’s how I remain connected with her.”
Peggy is not sure when she started referring to Samantha in the past tense. She said, “Even now, I cringe when someone asks me how many children I have. On the inside I answer ‘four’, on the outside, I say, ‘three’.”
There are currently six people on the Samantha Schmidt heARTs for ART board of directors. On Feb. 24, 2019, they held the annual fundraising event in which they raised approximately $20K. Peggy invites those interested in additional information or who would like to donate, to go to hearts-for-art.org or email@example.com, or find them on Facebook at hearts4art.
The Schmidt family has lived in Lucas since Aug. 2, 2011 (Samantha’s 10th birthday). They have a son, Daniel, who is a 10th grader at Lovejoy High School and two daughters, Angelina and Delilah who attend Sloan Creek Intermediate School.
Photos provided by the Schmidt Family.