On Friday, January 14, 2011, five year-old Madeleine James was in school, enjoying her kindergarten lessons at St. Anne School in Laguna Niguel, California, and playing on the playground with all of her friends.
Two days later, on Sunday morning, January 16th, we were told Maddie was going to die.
Doctors diagnosed Maddie with a malignant, inoperable brain tumor known as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. Located on the brain stem where the spinal cord meets the brain, it is the most feared pediatric brain tumor. There is no cure, and, after nearly a century of study, modern medicine has only been able to stretch life expectancy after diagnosis a matter of weeks.
On March 13, 2011, only fifty-seven days after her diagnosis, Maddie passed away peacefully in her sleep with us at her side.
But Maddie’s smile never dimmed, and her spirit expanded to energize an entire community.
While still in the hospital after Maddie’s diagnosis, we reached two decisions. First, we would make sure the precious time we had left with Maddie was lived to the fullest. Second, we would do something to properly honor our only child.
The Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California, was the first place that came to mind. Maddie loved the sea and all its many amazing creatures and attended camp there in August 2010 as a Sea Squirt. She often spoke about her teachers and proclaimed that it was “the best place ever.” She saved every name tag from her time at camp.
As one of the many miracles of that time, we learned the Ocean Institute was in the midst of an expansion, explained in detail here, centered on an educational center for children like Maddie who are fascinated by life under the waves and a much-needed dock expansion for the Institute’s historic ships. It needed $1 million to complete the project.
When Maddie saw the plans, she asked Kajsa what they were. After Kajsa told her, she exclaimed, “That’s so cool, mommy. Are we going to help them build it?” Kajsa responded, with all her heart, “Yes, Maddie, we are.”
Our mission was clear.
The dream came true as a result of the tireless efforts and extraordinary generosity of thousands of people, many of whom only came to know Maddie after she became an angel.
- Famous artist Wyland educated the entire St. Anne community about the importance of Maddie’s dream to preserve the ocean and invited her kindergarten class to join him in painting a mural featuring a sea turtle named Maddie.
All of this fundraising culminated with the Reaching for the Sea Stars Gala held on May 20, 2011, at the St. Regis Resort in Dana Point, California and hosted by four exclusive area hotels, the St. Regis Resort, the Laguna Cliffs Marriott, the Montage Resort, and Ritz-Carlton Resort. Through the unparalleled support of amazing sponsors and over 400 attendees and capped by the extraordinary generosity of the Dana Point Tourism Business Improvement District, we raised nearly $500,000 in one magical night and achieved our miracle.
In total, nearly forty individual fundraising events took place and over 4,000 individual donations were received as an entire community rose up in support of an amazing little girl and her dream. The Foundation became a family.
On June 11, 2011 – what would have been Maddie’s sixth birthday – The Maddie James Seaside Learning Center was officially dedicated.
Slated to open in 2012, the MJSLC will truly be a fitting and enduring legacy for a very special girl whose love and curiosity will shine in the face of visitors for generations.
Like her spirit, Maddie’s dream continues.
The Maddie James Foundation is committed to supporting The Maddie James Learning Center beyond its construction and into the future. A Mile for Maddie, the spectacular walk starting above Dana Point Harbor and ending at the Ocean Institute, will become an annual May event. The Foundation will also host and sponsor other events and initiatives to ensure that The Maddie James Seaside Learning Center remains a vibrant centerpiece of the Ocean Institute in perpetuity.
In addition, the Foundation will partner with like-minded organizations including the Wyland Foundation to provide scholarship funding and program support for educational initiatives focusing on marine biology education, exploration, and conservation so that all children, regardless of circumstance, can experience the same joy and wonder for the sea that Maddie did every day of her life.
We look forward to welcoming you into Maddie’s family.
Collie James and Kajsa James