Miracles From Maggie

Maggie Elder was a beautiful, athletic girl with brown eyes and long, blond hair. She cherished family and friends, but was especially passionate about animals, a menagerie that included puppies Willow and Guerin, horses Moses and Jonesy and a goat named Elliot.

Sadly, shortly after Maggie turned 11, her life took a devastating turn. In the summer before her fifth grade year at The Valley School of Ligonier, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a malignant bone tumor that most often affects children and young adults. 

It marked the beginning of a courageous and painful eight-month battle against the aggressive form of cancer, an ordeal that required chemotherapy and radiation.  

Blessings came in the form of the love and support that surrounded her on every step of her path, from her mother and stepfather, Cyndi and Jim McGinnis, to her sister, Mackenzie, step siblings Logan and Rachel, and a platoon of relatives and friends.  

Right away the family created wristbands, Miracles for Maggie, in light blue with yellow lettering, the color of Maggie’s bedroom. The wristbands led to a community-led 5K fundraiser that attracted 500 people.

“Everyone was praying for miracles for her,” says her mother Cyndi. “In fact, during in her journey, we realized how many miracles were actually taking place because of her life. She had a wisdom that stopped everyone in his or her tracks. Her motto was ‘faith can crush fear.’ She really taught people how to live and how to face adversity.”

Maggie began offering encouragement to others who were ill long before she ever became sick, her Aunt Cara recalled on Maggie’s CaringBridge blog. The blog, which helped to keep friends apprised of her progress while she was receiving treatment, attracted more than 20,000 hits.  

Relatives, cousins and friends assisted the family wherever and whenever they could, with meals, care and support. While they always sought to lift Maggie’s spirits during the low times, it often worked the other way around. It was Maggie who was lifting the spirits of everyone, her mother says.

When Maggie had lost much of her hair, she convinced her uncle and several others to join her by forming “the bald team.” They shaved their heads, even a moustache. When she was granted a Make-A-Wish trip, she chose to take her extended family skiing to Stowe, Vermont, where she was able to take a few runs in adaptive ski gear.

“She was always befriending someone in need,” says Cyndi, recalling the summer when Maggie encouraged the family to host an inner city youth in their Ligonier home through Fresh Air Fund.

Maggie passed away on Feb. 22, 2012, eight months after her diagnosis. As a way of returning the outpouring of love and financial support that Maggie received during her illness, her family created the Miracles From Maggie Fund with the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County, part of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

“We wanted to take the funds that were raised on her behalf and pay it forward in a way that Maggie would have wanted,” says Cyndi. “That includes helping other families faced with life threatening illnesses.”

The donor-advised fund is in its first year. The family is considering gifts to therapeutic horseback riding programs and the nonprofit Alice’s Lemonade Stand, a national organization that funds research for pediatric cancers, such as Ewing’s Sarcoma, which is very difficult to diagnose in the early stages.

“I feel a real calling and stewardship to create a legacy in her memory that she will not be forgotten,” Cyndi says. “She was such an amazing teacher for everyone around her and her work needs to continue.”