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Baby who fought cancer with mom dies
December 16th, 2011
04:40 PM ET

Baby who fought cancer with mom dies

A 1-year-old girl whose family was profiled on CNN.com died Tuesday after a seven-month struggle with a childhood cancer.

The stories of the child, Saoirse Craig Fitzgerald, and her mother, Kezia Fitzgerald, were told this fall because they were both diagnosed with cancer - albeit different types - within five months of each other.

In the Fitzgerald family, a household of three, cancer struck twice.

Shortly after Kezia learned she had Hodgkin's lymphoma, her daughter was diagnosed in May with neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that destroys a young nervous system by turning nerve cells into tumors. Cancer is "staged" to indicate its spread and Saoirse had stage 4, the furthest the disease can progress.  Kezia had stage 3 cancer, which is now in remission.

Saoirse, who is shown in this photo gallery from the September story, was a curious, playful girl who loved petting the family dog, Fallon, cuddling with her parents and watching "Sesame Street."

The cancer she had, neuroblastoma, develops from tissues that control vital body functions like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and hormones, according to U.S. National Library of Medicine. It's unclear what causes neuroblastoma, but researchers believe the genetic mutation that contributes to the cause occurs during pregnancy or soon after birth.

"This robbed me of my daughter,"  her father, Mike Fitzgerald said.  "It'll never take away anything she stood for."

Despite  aggressive treatments, the neuroblastoma returned seemingly stronger each time.

Saoirse endured eight rounds of chemotherapy - many of them lasting for days. She endured the harsh chemicals and surgery that removed both her adrenal glands.  She did what 1-year-olds do - smile, dole out high-fives to the hospital staff and chase after her mommy and daddy.

In November, the family received more bad news. Saoirse's cancer had returned after surgery, this time in her skull. Not a week later, her liver became enlarged and swollen, because the cancer had overtaken the organ.

Saoirse's breathing became labored.  She couldn't sleep because she had to stay awake  to breathe.

"It was labored and violent in the last few hours," her father said. "She was breathing 60-90 breaths a minute. All her energy was spent on breathing."

Her parents put on "Curious George" and "Sesame Street" to calm her. Looking at the images on her iPad, she uttered, "Elmo."

Doctors prepared for a risky intubation procedure, hoping that a breathing tube would help her.

Mike Fitzgerald crouched next to his daughter and whispered into her ear: "You're safe. It's OK to relax. It's OK to go to sleep. Doctors are going to look at you. Mommy and Daddy are right here."

Her eyes were swollen, but she made eye contact with her mommy and daddy.

At 6:47 a.m. Tuesday, Saoirse died.

Her memorial service will be held on Saturday. Guests are prohibited from wearing black.

Her family's Facebook page and blog are here.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.