WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTO | AUDRYSARMY.COM
Audrey Ann Wiggins led such an impactful, albeit brief, life that her parents decided to start an organization in her name to provide hope, love, and normalcy in support of medically fragile children and their families.
Audrey was born right after her twin brother on August 6th, 2013. She was born with esophageal atresia/tracheoesophageal fistula, a rare defect that prevented her esophagus from connecting with her stomach. She was also born with several congenital heart defects that were detected the next day.
Audrey died just a year and a half later, but it is what transpired during her life that is most important – how hard she fought, how much spirit she had, and, ultimately, the example she left and the inspiration she provided.
While they were in the hospital with their daughter, the Wiggins started a Facebook page as a streamlined way to keep friends and family updated. By the time Audrey passed away, their Facebook page had 13,000 followers. With such a following, the Wiggins decide to continue the page and parlay the support they received into a new venture that would help young children and families in similar situations. They called this venture Audrey’s Army.
There are two major components to Audrey’s Army. The first is to create signature Cricket’s Hope Giftbags that are given to hospitalized children. The name comes from a nickname Audrey earned because she would clap and rub her feet together, like a cricket. “She loved music, and she loved to hum,” said Christina Wiggins, Audrey’s mother. Each bag is adapted to the age and need of the recipient and always include a stuffed animal, a book, and fun, customizable items such as nail polish and temporary tattoos, depending on gender.
The second component is the research project the Wiggins established to fund the exploration and development of a device that might save babies in the future who have been diagnosed with the same defect.
Dr. Shaun Kunisaki, a physician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and professor at the University of Michigan, has developed a specific treatment currently going through the FDA approval process that might help fix the esophageal issue. Because this product is not eligible for funding from the hospital or university, its successful launch relies on the consistent financial support from Audrey’s Army.
The organization has two major fundraisers each year that coincide with Audrey’s birthday, and the day she passed away. “It can be very emotional, but it’s also healing. Not only are we giving something to other people, but they are giving so much to us,” said Wiggins. “We’re doing this because we wanted to help ourselves grieve and heal. When tragedy happens, you can take it and make something beautiful from it.”
Despite the sad statistics that only about four percent of marriages survive the loss of a child, Christina and her husband were determined not to let the loss of their daughter break up their marriage. “It was really about how we could take something like this and move forward together. My husband works for a company in Chicago in the health field, and I own and operate a photography business. We’ve worked hard to find our balance and rhythm while being parents, managing our careers, and maintaining the work of Audrey’s Army.”
Audrey’s Army is committed to raising the money necessary to continue medical research that will alleviate the impact of an esophageal atresia/tracheoesophageal fistula diagnosis. Their five-year goal is to raise $200,000.
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