Mother shares young daughter’s inspirational legacy in book

By Joe Tash

Maddie Babineau was just 12 years old when she was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. When a nonprofit group offered her a “wish,” she thought of asking for a trip to Disneyland or a meeting with her favorite hockey player. Instead, she decided to use her wish to help others, and asked that a school be built in a village in Kenya.

Six years after Maddie’s death, her mother, Sharon, is telling her daughter’s story through a new book, “The Girl Who Gave Her Wish Away,” published by Del Mar-based Bettie Youngs Books.

“Young people need a role model so desperately, they all want to help,” said Babineau, 52, who visited San Diego recently to attend a book-signing event at Warwick’s Books in La Jolla, and speak to students at El Camino High School in Oceanside. Babineau wants to honor her daughter’s legacy by making sure her story of caring and compassion inspires others to help those in need.

The book, which was published in January, is available at and other online outlets. Babineau, who lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, served in the Canadian military for 19 years as an auto mechanic, until her husband, Stephen, was diagnosed in 1989 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” a progressive disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Stephen died in 1998, leaving Babineau to care for Maddie and her brother, Derek.

Maddie was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in 2004, and underwent a year of intensive treatment, including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, said Babineau. During that period, Maddie saw a TV show about an orphaned boy in Africa that deeply moved her. So when she was offered her wish by the Children’s Wish Foundation, she thought about it and decided she would use it to help people like the boy she had seen on TV.

“She said she wanted the wish to be special, she wanted to share it,” Babineau said. That desire led her to contact Craig Kielburger, a fellow Canadian, who started his own nonprofit called Free the Children when he was just 12. Among the group’s goals is to end child labor, and it encourages children around the world to raise money for schools, economic development and health programs. Maddie’s wish was used to make a donation to Free the Children, which in turn built a one-room schoolhouse in a Kenyan village.

The girl who gave her wish awayKielburger became friends with Maddie, and was with her and her family at the hospital when she died in May 2007, at age 15, after her cancer came back for the second time.

In a telephone interview, Kielburger recounted how, after securing funding for the school, Maddie next set her sights on raising money for a well. She had learned that girls in the village often couldn’t attend classes because they had to walk for miles to carry water for their families.

Maddie was a remarkable person, said Kielburger, focusing on helping others even in the midst of her life-and-death struggle with cancer, which often left her bedridden and debilitated. “There are lots of people who feel powerless with their circumstances in life,” said Kielburger, due to many factors, whether their financial status or personal relationships. “Here’s a young woman, dealing with something beyond her control that could have crippled her spirit, but she chose to leave this legacy. It goes to show we’re never powerless, never too young, to make a difference in this world.”

Babineau recalled how she helped her daughter buy 500 bracelets on E-bay, which the girl sold to doctors and nurses in the hospital to raise money for the well. Later, as the story became known and Maddie even did interviews — although she was painfully shy — people in their community began to donate and raise money to help Maddie’s cause.

“I watched my daughter transform, I watched the light in her eyes shine, I watched her find her voice,” Babineau said. While she could never have imagined going on without her daughter, Babineau said, Maddie insisted that her mother be happy after she was gone, and Babineau has taken that challenge to heart. Babineau has since remarried to Arunas, a teacher, and Maddie’s brother, Derek, is now 17, and volunteers at a summer camp for children with cancer. His goal is to be a lawyer, Babineau said.

Babineau has also started a nonprofit, called Maddie’s Everlasting Wish,

which continues to raise funds for projects in Africa, and holds an annual 5k run. Kielburger wrote the forward to Babineau’s book. “I think it’s a story that should be told,” he said.