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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Team Casey raises $66,000 for UMC fund”

    Team Casey raises $66,000 for UMC fund

    Although Casey Axford is gone, Mary Axford will not let the memory of her son fade away.

    After Casey was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 1999 at the age of 13, his family rallied around him to the point where his brother Matt gave Casey his bone marrow through a transplant in 2002.

    The relief was short-lived.

    Casey relapsed for a second time two years later. Family was again at the forefront of Casey’s struggle. This time, it was his other brother Jay who donated stem cells to his brother in need.

    The sickness of a child didn’t just unite the Axford family. Friends soon got involved in Casey’s battle.

    Cindy Fishman, a close family friend who had been training for the half marathon in the following January’s P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and Half Marathon, asked the family if she could run in Casey’s honor.

    Fishman began recruiting marathon participants to follow her example. Soon afterward, honor was not the only thing at stake, as Fishman, Casey and the marathon runners began raising money for the University Medical Center’s Pediatric Outpatient Blood and Marrow Transplantation Fund, designed to provide toys, books and other items to children during cancer treatment, Mary said.

    “”We were all thrilled, because it gave Casey the opportunity to give back,”” Mary said. “”It helped him recover, knowing that he was working toward something.””

    In the first year, the community raised $16,000. Following the first year’s success, the effort needed a name.

    That was when Team Casey was born.

    The cause was one close to Casey’s heart. He remembered that during his many trips to the clinic for treatment during his childhood, there were not many things to occupy the minds of the young oncological patients.

    An endeavor that began penniless with a single friend’s selfless gesture soon touched the heart of a nation, and Team Casey soon began receiving donations from all corners of the country, said Kent Rollins, president of the transplantation fund.

    While the participants ran in his honor each year, Casey was right there to show his gratitude and support, Mary said.

    “”Casey was a big part of it,”” she said. “”He did it every year.””

    Things were looking up for the Axford family. Not only was Team Casey running strong, but Casey also recovered from his second transplant and began attending Northern Arizona University.

    Newfound joy and optimism declined to tragedy in late 2006. Because Casey’s bone marrow was not recognizing the leukemia cells, he was forced to stay on medication so his body would not reject the blood marrow, Mary said.

    Casey soon came down with a bad case of pneumonia and died December 2006 at the age of 21.

    Team Casey’s fundraising efforts continued on as planned for the next marathon just a month later, except for the first time in the group’s history, Casey was not there to greet the runners as they crossed the finish line.

    While saddened by his loss, the participants took the opportunity to celebrate his life rather than dwell on his death, Mary said.

    “”We didn’t feel like there was a void,”” she said.

    Following Casey’s death, it became clear that Casey had touched the lives of more than just the members of Team Casey. Students at his former high school began giving out memory bands in Casey’s memory, Mary said.

    “”It really warms my heart to see people coming together like that,”” she said. “”Everyone cared about him.””

    Earlier this month, by the time the dust had settled from the marathon, Team Casey was bringing in record donations.

    In only four years, Team Casey has gone from a local $16,000 group effort to a national endowment of $66,000 to the UMC fund, Mary said.

    Rollins said the fundraising’s quick growth has revitalized the fund and given it a financial foundation.

    The success of Team Casey led the group to look into the future to make sure the tradition continues for many years to come.

    To Mary Axford, Casey will always be there waiting just beyond the finish line.

    “”Casey is there,”” she said. “”We can feel him there.””

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