Meg Wasley was a normal 7-year-old who loved school, played sports, and had lots of friends — a sweet girl, says her mom, Terri, who was always smiling.
In February 2010, Meg started complaining about not being able to hear. Terri and her husband, Jim, also noticed that Meg — who was tall for her age — was stumbling a lot. Her pediatrician recommended an MRI, which revealed a DIPG brain tumor. There’s no cure for this tumor, and patients typically live 9 to 12 months after diagnosis.
Patients can benefit from radiation and chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, producing what’s known as a “honeymoon period.”
“You don’t want to give up hope,” Wasley says.
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After treatment, Meg’s symptoms improved for several months. When the tumor started progressing again, her family decided to go to Rhode Island for a second round of radiation, her mom says.
“While we were there, a family contacted us,” Wasley says. “Their daughter had died of a similar brain tumor that July, and she wanted to do something for Meg.”
The woman’s name was Jen, and something she told Wasley’s husband struck a chord with the couple: “This isn’t about you. We want to do something for Meg.”
So Caroline’s Miracle Foundation presented Meg with an iPad and shopping spree.
“It was an experience we will never forget,” Wasley says. “At the time, Meg was struggling. It gave her a pick-me-up.”
She died on Jan. 10, 2011.
“We knew we wanted to do something from our experience to pay it forward,” Wasley says.
While in Rhode Island, Meg asked her parents, “Will you always remember me?”
“That spearheaded us to start this foundation,” Wasley says, still tearing up at the memory.
While Jim Wasley was on leave from work, he started the paperwork for the Meg’s Smile Foundation, and they gave their first smile in May 2011.
“We’ve been able to do more than 300 smiles,” Wasley says, “and each smile has a budget of $2,500 to $3,000.”
There’s been bowling with Spider-Man, virtual shopping sprees, and meet-and-greets with athletes. One little girl, a huge “Toy Story” fan, wanted to meet songwriter Randy Newman. When he was in concert in Raleigh, the Meg’s Smile board members made that happen.
Along with the Wasleys, their board consists of friends, neighbors and family members, all of whom donate their time. Because there’s no overhead — the office is in Meg’s bedroom — 100 percent of the money raised goes to creating smiles.
The Wasleys continue to work full-time — she’s a Spanish teacher at Holly Springs High School, and he works in finance with BB&T — so meetings to coordinate smiles sometimes take place at odd hours. Sometimes, the couple simply forwards emails to board members for help with smile requests.
“We kind of work our magic that way,” Wasley says.
When Wasley at times struggles to coordinate a smile, she remembers, “It’s not about you.
“With every smile that we do, Meg is a part of it, and it keeps her memory alive,” she says. “I can see her and her spirit in a lot of these children. It’s really rewarding, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
Smiles are for children with life-threatening illnesses who live in or are treated in North Carolina. They must be over age 2, diagnosed before age 19, and receive their smile before they are 26.
Children with DIPG tumors are especially meaningful to the Wasleys.
This spring, 5-year-old Avery Neill of Raleigh asked for a play set in her backyard. Each of Emily and Andy Neill’s children got to choose something they wanted on it. Avery wanted a snack area; her twin-sister, Bekah, requested a fire pole, and little brother James wanted a “cool twisty slide,” their mom says.
“They were able to work in all of those things, in addition to a rock wall and a club house, and even a real staircase so Avery could access the second level,” Neill says. “She passed away a couple of weeks after the play set was built, but she was able to sit and have snacks and do the stairs, and she really enjoyed snuggling with me while Bek and James played.
“Now it is a sweet distraction for the kids as we mourn Avery,” Neill adds, “and it’s become a great place to think about Avery and remember her happy and playful personality.”
The Wasleys have two other children, Jake, 18, a student at Wake Tech, and Izzy, 7, born five months after her big sister died.
“Izzy knows her sister named her, so there’s definitely a connection,” Wasley says. “We are so fortunate and have come so far and done so much through the support of our area in Holly Springs and in Wake County. It’s been a real community effort.”
105 Hickory Glen Lane
Holly Springs, NC
How to help: Donations of any amount are appreciated; 100 percent of money raised goes toward creating “smiles,” which typically cost between $2,500 and $3,000. If you know children who need smiles, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Upcoming fundraiser: Suggly Sweater 5K, Dec. 15 at Sugg Farm Park, 2401 Grigsby Ave., Holly Springs. Tickets are $35 and Fun Run tickets are $12. All proceeds from the race will go directly to Meg’s Smile Foundation