‘Lights for Ashley’ honors H.P. athlete’s life, legacy

Published May 14, 2017 at 9:00am

HOLLAND PATENT — It took a village to raise a child and it will take a village to remember that child who defied odds and selflessly gave back to her community in anyway she could.

Turn on the Lights for Ashley is a community-wide fundraising event to install lights on the Northern Community Pop Warner football field located on Route 365 in Holland Patent. The benefit will take place on Sunday, May 21 at the Stittville Firemen’s field from noon to 6 p.m.

The lights will honor of Ashley Annis, a child who played through the Pop Warner program. Ashley passed away on March 10, 2017 after medical complications with Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, or ITP.

The idea came to mother Nancy Annis one night after a Pop Warner booster club meeting. Driving home, she told her husband Craig that she wanted to “put lights on that field for that girl” and whether Ashley was with them or not, they wanted to honor her.

“We turned down benefit after benefit over the years,” said Nancy about the community outreach to help. “So when we decided we wanted help, everyone jumped on board. We have an entire team behind us.”

Nancy wants lights on the field by this fall and believes that it can easily be done in the afternoon. The price tag for the installation is roughly $35,000 and so far, everything from the entertainment to the food to the Chinese and silent auction items have been donated.

“Everything has fallen into place,” said Nancy. “Everyone knew Ashley and no one has said no. Everyone wants to help out in any way they can.”

Growing up, Ashley watched football every Sunday with her mother and quickly fell in love with the sport, wanting to play. She didn’t think twice that it was “unusual” that a girl wanted to play football.

Ashley’s Pop Warner coach, Gary Niedzielski, noted in a eulogy at her funeral services that when the season started, he expected 25 boys, and what he got was 24 boys and one girl. Not knowing what to expect, Ashley quickly became his “coach on the field.”

In the eulogy, he also added that it wasn’t just the Annis’s that lost a child, but the entire community did, not knowing what potential she could have had later in life.

“She really liked proving that a girl could play football,” said Nancy, adding that she also played Little League until she aged out and was forced to play girl sports in middle school. Once she couldn’t play with the boys, she switched gears to play field hockey and softball.

Graduating from Holland Patent in 2003, Ashley went on to play softball in college at SUNY Morrisville and graduated in 2006.

It was in 2005 that her life changed after she was diagnosed with ITP, a disorder that can lead to easy or excessive bruising and bleeding.

Most people who are diagnosed with ITP are expected to make a full recovery without treatment. She underwent a splenectomy after three weeks of trail-and-error with drugs that normally combat the virus. The splenectomy helped lower her platelets that are affected by ITP.

The Annis family chased neurologists after realizing that Ashley’s learning abilities were hindered, not sure if it was in correlation to ITP. After two years, a doctor noticed that her brain was damaged and that it was deteriorating at a rapid pace. It wasn’t just one area of the brain affect, but all areas of the brain were competing with one another, wearing it down quicker.

Doctors had never seen rapid brain deterioration in an ITP case like this.

Nancy noted that if Ashley ever did suffer a blow to the head, she wouldn’t have told anyone, simply because she didn’t want to perceived as “weak”.

The Annis family worked with Dr. Charles Duffy in Rochester, where he linked them to the National Institute of Health, the biggest medical clinic in the United States, where they took samples from Nancy and Craig, younger brother Dale and Ashley herself to run genetic testing for further evaluation.

Since most brain research is composed postmortem, Dr. Duffy had to ask the Annis’ a very difficult question: Would they be willing to donate Ashley’s brain to research?

“It was without any hesitation,” said Nancy. “Even if we don’t get anything out of it, it could help prevent this for your grandchild. Where we are with neurology is where they were with cancer 20 to 30 years ago, they’re that far behind. They need that much more data to research.”

During one of her hospital stays three years ago, Ashley had contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as the MRSA virus and nearly lost her fight, but recovered.

During that time, the community rallied together behind leader Anne Edwards, a close family friend, and donated a meal to the Annis’ every night for a month. Craig also noted that they filled their woodshed with wood because they didn’t have time to stock it themselves between hospital visits.

This past February, she was hospitalized with two different types of pneumonia, sepsis and a urninary tract infection. Her body temperature started to drop and the family realized that her fight was coming to an end.

On the morning of Ashley’s passing, Nancy recalled that she was in on a conference call with the NIH and the Harvard University Brain Bank, discussing the actions that needed to be taken once Ashley passed. There’s a window of six hours after someone dies that a brain needs to be sent to the brain back for research to be properly done.

At the time of this publication, the Annis haven’t heard anything from Harvard and won’t expect to for another four to six months.

“She always did things to give back,” said Nancy, noting that Ashley was very community minded at a young age.

For example, Ashley was selected to the People to People student ambassador program and raised funds by soliciting to local businesses and the Westernville Legion to travel to Australia, France, Spain and Portugal. “Not only would she raise the money, she would have presentations to the Legion and showed them what she did and how thankful she was when she came back.”

“She was a very independent child,” said Nancy, adding that she could cook at a young age. “She helped other people, like her aunts with yard work and would help my hair dresser clean her windows. She just wanted to do for other people.”

Now, it’s the community’s turn to give back. Tickets are on sale for $25 per person, while children under 10 are free. Tickets can be purchased at Nice and Easy in Barneveld, Benni’s in Holland Patent, Utopia Hair in Rome or the Remsen V.F.W.

Admission includes food, beverages and entrainment. For a nominal fee, a Chinese auction, silent auction and other raffles will be offered throughout the day.

Starting off the entertainment lineup is Elvis in Concert by Michael Maggiolino at 12:30, Grit and Grace Duo at 1:15, Fulton Chain Gang at 2:15, The Bomb at 3:30 and Rush Hush closing out the show at 5 o’clock.

Donations will also be accepted and can be submitted to Nancy at (315) 378-7299.