Nearly two years after her death, one of Maggie Wiederholt’s last wishes is coming true.
An anonymous donor has given $30,000 — the largest lump sum donation made so far in memory of the 12-year-old Walcott girl — to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City.
That gift brings the grand total to more than $50,000, which is just enough to begin long-awaited research into Maggie’s genetic makeup and the rare autoimmune disease, Behcet’s, that killed her in February 2010.
“I owe this person everything,” Maggie’s mother, Diane Wiederholt, said about the anonymous donor. “In Maggie’s eyes, this is what she was here for, to help other people not have to suffer in the future.”
The donor is the same one who gave two separate $10,000 gifts since Maggie’s death. Many other donations also have come in to the children’s hospital in Maggie’s name, but this donor has provided the biggest amount of any, said Taryn Kuntz, associate director of development for University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.
“It’s huge,” Kuntz said about the donation. “I’m in communication with the donor, and that’s the intent, that this will complete Maggie’s wish to start Dr. (Polly) Ferguson’s work.”
Before Maggie died, she made arrangements to ensure her tissue would be used for research after her death. That work will be led by Ferguson, Maggie’s rheumatologist, who took tissue samples, but didn’t have enough money to start research right away.
Ferguson has said it would cost $50,000 to perform “whole genome sequencing,” which would allow her to study the DNA sequence of Maggie’s genes, and the DNA between her genes, to find any mutations.
It could cost another $50,000 to $100,000 to then try to prove that those mutations caused her Behcet’s, Ferguson said for a previous story. The rheumatologist could not be reached for comment Monday.
Maggie’s mother said she still visits the Iowa City hospital frequently with other family members, and “as a mom, it’s really hard,” knowing a part of Maggie is still there.
The memories are tough, too. Maggie was hospitalized extensively through her lifetime.
“Just the simple things we did every day to try to keep her life normal inside hospital walls,” Wiederholt said. “That was our home.”
Although the donor doesn’t want to be identified, hospital officials have revealed a couple of details over the past year: The donor shares Maggie’s birth date and also suffers from Behcet’s disease.
Maggie’s medical struggles were detailed in an award-winning Quad-City Times multimedia series called “Maggie’s Choice,” which was published in April 2010. The series, which documented the end of Maggie’s life and was submitted for a Pulitzer Prize, can be found online at www.qctimes.com/Maggie.
Many people also follow Maggie’s story, even after her death, through a blog at www.carepages.com, written under the moniker “Ballerinagurl” by the girl’s mother. Maggie’s father is Brad Wiederholt.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Diane Wiederholt said about the donations in Maggie’s name. “It’s very humbling. People tell me, ‘Because of her, my life has changed.’ She touched so many people’s lives.”