Eating lunch Tuesday on what would have been their daughter Sadie's fourth birthday, Cathy and Adin McCann let the tears come. There is no stopping the sorrow for what the Des Plaines parents lost. But each buzz of the cellphone leads to a different kind of tears because of what is happening now in Sadie's memory.
"It is kind of a sad day because it's her birthday, and then I get all these photos on my phone of people doing acts of kindness," says Cathy, smiling as she wipes her eye. "It makes us happy to see that she is making such an impact."
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One photo shows a young boy giving a "self-help bag" of supplies to a homeless man in California. In another photo, two sisters deliver cupcakes to local firefighters. Sadie's "acts of kindness" campaign ends up on the celebrity blog of Khloe Kardashian, who tells fans that she "can't wait to see what you dolls do" while taking part in "such an amazing mission," and posting photos on the Friends of Sadie McCann Facebook page.
People in a dozen states and Canada already have performed acts of kindness in memory of Sadie Elizabeth McCann, and dozens of friends and family will join that effort Saturday, compiling good deeds as part of an "acts of kindness scavenger hunt" and blood drive at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Des Plaines.
Enjoying a healthy, unremarkable pregnancy, Cathy and Adin moved to the area when she was eight months pregnant. "I remember him (her new doctor) looking through my files and saying, 'Well, you're a boring pregnant woman,'" she says.
Sadie was born on April 29, 2010, and a problem with her right eye originally thought to be a clogged tear duct was the first sign of a much more serious problem. Not quite 2 months old, Sadie was diagnosed with Aicardi syndrome, a very rare genetic disorder that includes brain malformations, vision problems, seizures and severe developmental and physical disabilities. The Aicardi Syndrome Foundation (aicardisyndromefoundation.org) is headquartered in St. Charles.
A doctor explained the grim outlook to the stunned parents. "I remember her talking to me about life expectancy, and I said, 'Can you repeat that?'" Cathy remembers.
For the next three years, the couple turned their home into a treatment center and sought the latest surgeries and medicines for their daughter.
"We kept thinking, 'This treatment will work,'" says Adin, describing a roller-coaster ride where every rise of hope was followed by a heartbreaking plunge of reality.
Sadie died on Nov. 19, 2013, and Cathy and Adin were on the long drive to be with his loved ones in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving when the idea came to them. Grateful for all the help and support during Sadie's constant medical struggles, Adin remembers thinking, "I wish we had more time to do this for other people."
Already a fan of the random acts of kindness concept, Cathy remembers saying, "We could do an acts of kindness scavenger hunt where, instead of finding clues, teams go out and do nice things in the community."
Helping others in Sadie's memory "just seemed like a really nice fit," Adin says.
Buying about $1,000 worth of supplies to keep the teams from having to spend their own money, the McCanns devised a list with tasks such as "write a letter to a soldier," "leave a bottle of laundry detergent at a Laundromat," "donate diapers to Heather's House in Des Plaines," "schedule a date to baby-sit a friend or family member's kids" and even "tape scratch-off lotto tickets inside bathroom stalls of stores with a note reading, 'Is today your lucky day?'"
"We hope to blanket our community in kindness," Cathy says.
The teams of four or five people will photograph their good deeds and have two hours to complete as many as they can. Every act, including those done by people out of state, is topped off with the presentation of a card explaining the gesture was done in Sadie's memory and directing people to sadiemccann.blogspot.com.
"It doesn't take much to be kind," Adin says.
"A friend went to Jewel and prepaid for a little girl's birthday cake," Cathy says. An actress friend in Los Angeles gathered a group to perform musical numbers at a nursing home. The mother of the boyfriend of Sadie's former physical therapist volunteered to take photos at Saturday's event. A bus driver told a woman with physical issues that he was giving her extra help in Sadie's memory, and that woman turned out to be a fellow church member who knew Sadie and her family.
"Everything is coming full circle," Adin says.
"We've been humbled at the outpouring of support. We love to keep her memory alive. She gave us a lot of smiles," Cathy says of Sadie.
"The memories that come to mind are the happy ones," Adin adds. "She brought us a lot of joy."
Acts done in Sadie's memory should do the same.