Girl gets friends to help donate stuffed animals to cancer patients

LILBURN - Fifth-grader Anna Porter was deeply moved when her friend and classmate lost his little brother to bone cancer. She wanted to help other child patients as they fought their own battles against the disease.

So she gave the kids what she knew always cheered her up: stuffed animals. On Monday, Anna presented the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders service with 55 new plush toys.

The Providence Christian Academy student got the idea in August, a year after Carter Martin, the brother of her friend Candler Martin, lost his battle against cancer. Their fathers had been friends since high school, and the loss was devastating.

Instead of gifts, Anna asked her friends to give her stuffed animals for her 11th birthday in October. She collected 16 to donate to the hospital.

"Stuffed animals just really lift me up, and they really make me feel good, which I thought cancer patients needed the most," Anna said.

In December, Providence raised more than $47,000 to support experimental cancer therapy in honor of Carter, who died from Ewings sarcoma bone cancer after 20 months and 14 cycles of chemotherapy.

The school also raised $45,000 the previous year in its annual sports event, the Carter Martin Classic.

Anna started "Stuffed for Love" in August to help the spirits of young cancer and blood disorder patients. She organized a Valentine's Day drive at Providence, collecting an additional 35 stuffed animals for the AFLAC Cancer Center.

"I just think she's filled with the love of the Lord, and this is how it spills out of her. I've always said she has the biggest heart in the world," said Anna's mother, Cheryl Porter.

The Porters found the project particularly rewarding because children in outpatient care would get their stuffed animals at either their highest or lowest moments. The toys would be used to either cheer the kids on before a treatment or reward them after a particularly difficult time. Every in-patient will also receive a stuffed animal by the end of the week.

Anna and her mother visited the Aflac Cancer Center at Scottish Rite Children's Hospital on Monday to donate the toys. They are planning to continue collecting and donating new stuffed animals, as well as arts and crafts supplies for the child patients.

The Scottish Rite facility treats more than 40 cancer and blood disorder patients at any given time, according to Diane Vaughan, senior development officer for the Aflac Cancer Center. Last year, 73 children received bone marrow transplants.

On Monday, Anna presented her first stuffed animal to a boy being treated.

"It was wonderful," Vaughan said. "When you can give them something like one of those big beautiful stuffed animals, it just really brightens their day," Vaughan said.

To contact the Porters about donating toys for child patients, e-mail cheryl.porter@comcast.net. Monetary donations can be made through the Web site of the Carter Samuel Martin Experimental Therapy Research Fund, which is located at http://www.choa.org/