EAGLE, Idaho — A year ago, nine-year-old Claire Elliot was just like any other little girl. That all changed the day after Thanksgiving. She wasn't feeling well, and her family received a devastating diagnosis - Claire had DIPG, a deadly tumor on her brain stem.
Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) is a type of tumor that starts in the brain stem, the part of the brain just above the back of the neck and connected to the spine. The brain stem controls breathing, heart rate and the nerves and muscles that help people see, hear, walk, talk and eat.
These tumors are called gliomas because they grow from glial cells, a type of supportive cell in the brain.
"They said just go home, make memories. That's what they told us," Claire's mom, Annie Elliott, said.
Elliott says watching her daughter decline so quickly over the past year has been more painful than words can describe.
"Now she can no longer walk, she lost her dominant hand so she can't write or color like she used to. She is completely dependent on us, she can't do the things that a normal 9-year-old should be able to do," said Annie Elliott. "These last couple months we've been in and out of the hospital, lately she's developed more pain."
When the Eagle, Idaho girl was diagnosed, her mom created a Facebook page called "Sunshine for Claire" to share her story.
"I think she is truly inspirational, there's just something about Claire that makes other people smile, that makes other people's hearts light up! Maybe I'm just biased because I'm her mom but she is truly a very special kid," Annie Elliott said. "She's a fighter, she's my hero. I just think the more people that get to know her, the more she touches the lives of others, the better."
Her mom posts Claire's special moments, like a recent hospital visit from the Boise State Football players.
"She was a cheerleader, and so for years she actually cheered on the blue turf for optimist football. So when they came in and talked to her, she was like I used to be a cheerleader! I cheered for you, it was so cute!" Elliot said.
Claire also was able to attend her first day of school in August with her friends at Eagle Elementary School of the Arts, and that meant everything to her.
"She really loved going to school. She wants to go back, and her school has been so great to work with," Elliott said.
Claire is still fighting past the life expectancy doctors gave her. Her mom wanted to do something extra special for her.
"She's doing great, she's fighting so well, but we just don't know and Christmas is her favorite holiday, she wants to have early Christmas," said Elliott. "I posted on this Eagle forum with like 900 people on it, and I thought maybe some of our neighbors will put their lights up."
Hundreds of people responded to that Facebook post, wanting to help bring Claire an early Christmas. Not just putting up their Christmas lights early for Claire, but offering gifts, Santa visits, caroling, sleigh rides. You name it - anything for this special girl. Several special events are planned for her in the coming weeks. Her mom is absolutely blown away.
"I'm beyond overwhelmed and so grateful for people who want to help, and who have reached out and who want to make this so amazing for her," Elliot said through tears. "I'm just so excited! Thank you so much, I can't even I don't have the words, I'm so grateful, I really am."
Claire is overjoyed too. She struggled to talk to us and tell us how she's feeling about all this love from the community.
"I think it's really exciting for all of these people coming in to make this special day for me," Claire said
Thanks to this amazing community, plans are now in the works to put together an incredible early Christmas for this little girl who is touching so many hearts.
The community reaction has been so huge, the City of Eagle is sponsoring Christmas for Claire at Reid Merrill Park on Saturday, November 2. It starts at 6 p.m. It will be a Christmas wonderland and everyone is invited to celebrate this little girl.You can donate, or be a part of decorating the park for this special night.
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