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Teen memorializes her father by helping kids with cancer

When Maggie Walsh’s father was diagnosed with multiple, recurring and inoperable brain tumors in November 2005, the 15-year-old La Jolla High School sophomore felt like the worst thing in the world was happening to her close-knit family.

Over the course of the year, as his illness progressed, Walsh, who describes herself as exactly like her father, began to look for something positive in their difficulties.

“All summer, it felt like such a negative situation,” Walsh said. She spent hours lying around on the king-sized bed next to her father, keeping him company and talking.

“I’d tell my dad how much I wanted to help. I’d say, ‘I really want to do something. I want to help other people so badly.’” Walsh said. “And one day he said, ‘Mag, start a foundation.’ And I was like, Dad, it’s not that easy.”

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Carl Walsh, a practical man by all accounts, told Maggie to get a piece of paper and start writing down her ideas. Walsh then began researching her options on the Internet. She discovered the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and First Giving, a Web site that allows individuals to set up Web pages to raise money for particular causes and charities.

Walsh set up her page, www.firstgiving.com/mWalsh, as a way to raise money to help children suffering from brain tumors. And after her father died Nov. 10, 2006, the page became a memorial to Carl Walsh.

Maggie likes the fact that her Web page helps people while also allowing donors to share memories of her father.

“I like the fact that it focuses on children,” Walsh said. “I realized that whatever they do for children will help everybody. I thought about how hard this past year was, for my dad, being 51. I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be if it happened to a kid.”

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Mom Jeannie Walsh kept busy caring for her husband and was unaware of Maggie’s project at first.

“One day, my husband needed me quite a bit, and Maggie was on the computer. She spent several hours on the computer, and then she lay down on the king-size bed next to us and said, ‘Guess what I’ve been working on?’”

Walsh’s Web page to raise money for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation was up and running by July 7, 2006. And while her father was too sick to get out of bed to sit at the computer and see her work, she told him all about it, giving him daily updates on how much money she had raised.

“He was really interested,” Walsh said. “The day I made it, I told him about it. I’d give him updates. With his memory loss, it was cute: Every time I told him about it, he’d get excited all over again.”

Despite never being able to see her site, Carl Walsh’s imprint is all over his daughter’s work. Donors are invited to leave comments, and many notations speak lovingly of Carl, or Ki, as he was called by his friends.

For the Walsh family, comments from friends about his kindness reflect perfectly the man they knew and loved, the man who has inspired nearly $7,000 of giving to help children with brain tumors. Walsh hopes to raise $10,000 before her Web site expires this summer.

“He was the most giving person,” Maggie Walsh said. “He wasn’t into material things. He enjoyed the simple pleasures, wanting to go for a walk on the beach. Whenever I’d go shopping with my mom and he’d wait outside the store, we’d come out and he’d be talking to homeless people. He treated everyone equally.”

Walsh also appreciated her father’s deep devotion to his family.

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“He was the best family person,” Walsh said. “He always told me, ‘If you can do one thing, be a good family man.’ That was definitely important to him.”

At memorials in La Jolla and his hometown in Pennsylvania, Walsh was amazed at the number of people who approached her with stories of her father’s compassion. People wanted to give back the kindness Carl Walsh had offered them over the years.

Maggie Walsh was particularly moved by one man who told her how supportive her father had been when he had lost a son, and that he had always appreciated his kindness.

Walsh also valued her father’s sense of humor, even in the face of insurmountable odds.

“All through his illness, he never lost his personality,” Walsh said. “He had the best sense of humor. He’d be in the hospital and all the nurses would be cracking up. They’d line up and give him hugs going out the door. He was always polite and he always kept his sense of humor.”

Through her Web site, Maggie Walsh hopes to pass on a little of what her father taught her over the years: kindness, humor and the importance of helping other people.

“My main goal is to prevent other people from going through what he went through,” Walsh said.