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An Elephant Grants Last Wish for Pediatric Cancer Patient

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AidanPainting.jpgFor any patient or family faced with a cancer diagnosis, daily activities or interactions that were once routine and taken for granted can become monumental gifts. For Aidan Immroth, art was his gift. It was a gift that got him through years of cancer treatment, and it was a gift he shared with thousands through his artistic creations.

Aidan was diagnosed with brain cancer as a toddler. Despite several relapses over the years, he didn't let cancer define him. Aidan was an active student in the Pediatric Education and Creative Arts Program at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital and contributed several designs featured on Children's Art Project gift items. He even founded his own organization, Angels in Disguise Are Always Near (AIDAAN.org), which helps pediatric cancer patients cope with waiting at the hospital by providing iPods loaded with customized playlists.

In 2009, Aidan met Ian Cion through a summer art collaboration with Children's Cancer Hospital patients called Collidescapes. When Cion returned to the Children's Cancer Hospital in 2010 to launch their Arts in Medicine Program, Aidan was one of his first students. The two began meeting regularly during Aidan's hospital visits, and elephants soon became a focus for the young man's drawings.

"We were able to celebrate Aidan's passion for art through the Children's Art Project and through Ian and the Arts In Medicine Program. They allowed our family to focus on positive activities versus a singular focus on battling cancer," says Aidan's mother, Hallie Immroth.

When Aidan heard of another MD Anderson patient who had painted a design on her own horse, he and Cion discussed the possibility of painting a live elephant. Cion was sharing Aidan's desire with a group of patients when a nurse, overhearing the conversation, said she knew of a person who might be able to help make Aidan's dream a reality. Soon she provided Cion with the phone number of elephant owner and trainer Bill Swain.

On the day of painting, Aidan was joined by his parents, brother, grandparents, cousins, aunt, uncles and friends, who came together from around the country to assist Aidan with painting his masterpiece.

"It was amazing how everyone just knew what to do. I wasn't even aware of all the little things that were done to help until after the painting was done," Hallie recalls. "For instance, we had brought about 60 pounds of carrots and apples, and someone was there feeding Krissy the elephant and keeping her happy while we painted."

For 13-year-old Aidan, it was a momentous event that he wanted to go off without a hitch. He even visited the Houston Zoo a couple of times to study their elephants and get a feel for the texture of their skin.

"I knew they had wrinkly skin with a rough texture, but I didn't anticipate how large their wrinkles are," Aidan said. "We had to make sure we got lots of paint in the cracks between the wrinkles. Krissy was amazing through it all."

For Aidan and his family, the entire day was a wish fulfilled.

"Not only was it neat to be able to do it with my family and to do any project with your family, but it wasn't like you were scrapbooking, you were painting an elephant. That's something you're never going to get to do again," Aidan said. "It was really cool to be able to have that experience and to be able to include so many people I love and who are meaningful in my life."



A month after he painted the elephant, Aidan passed away on Nov. 19 surrounded by his family at home. His art lives on through the memories he left his family and friends and the many designs he contributed through the Arts In Medicine Program and the Children's Art Project.

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