By Kevin Coughlin
Hedda Sivertsson is one tough little 14-year-old.
And classmates, teachers, neighbors and even U.S. Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn are rallying behind the Morris Township girl, to help her keep hanging tough against brain cancer.
Ribbons of turquoise–Hedda’s favorite color–festoon trees and businesses throughout Greater Morristown. An online drive has raised nearly $25,000 in just four days. Vonn, the U.S. Ski Team, and the Rutgers-Newark Scarlet Raiders women’s basketball team have befriended her. This week, a neighbor donated blood platelets for her.
Hedda’s grateful family says it continues drawing strength from her.
Video: U.S. Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn tells Hedda to stay strong
“She is the strongest one of us. She’s just fighting hard,” Camilla Sivertsson, Hedda’s mom, said on Friday.
“She’s unbelievably tough. She was letting it get to her for about a day. Then it was like, ‘Okay!’ She’s fighting for us…I don’t know how she does it.”
‘AN EXTRAORDINARY GIRL’
Hedda was diagnosed two years ago with Medulloblastoma. She endured surgery and 55 grueling weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. The family rejoiced in November: Doctors said Hedda was in remission.
“Team Hedda,” as the family calls itself on Facebook, celebrated with a Thanksgiving ski trip to Colorado, where Hedda met Vonn and other top U.S. skiers.
When the Sivertssons returned to New Jersey, so did Hedda’s headaches and dizziness. At first, the family hoped it was merely a concussion from a spill she had taken. But the cancer had returned.
She spent her 14th birthday at Morristown Medical Center, where she underwent another operation just before Christmas. Hedda has been home for just one day throughout this latest ordeal, during which she has battled infections and partial paralysis.
Before her diagnosis, Hedda was an athletic force to be reckoned with. She was a soccer goalie. She played lacrosse. She even fancied rugby.
But skiing has been her passion since age 3. Parents Camilla and Per, who emigrated from Sweden in 2004 to work in pharma and biotech, have taken Hedda, her older brother William and kid sister Elva on countless ski weekends. Hedda races with Mountain Creek’s Skylands Ski Club.
Morristown Councilman Michael Elms knows the Sivertssons through his daughter. The first time the families skied together, Hedda was 10.
“I was awestruck by her athleticism and ability to dominate going down the mountain,” said Elms, who donated blood platelets for Hedda this week.
“She is the sweetest, most polite, prettiest, respectful little girl,” added Elms, who expressed admiration for Hedda at this week’s council meeting. “For her and her family to be going through this is just not fair. It’s not fair for anybody… but for this family, in particular.”
“She is fuller than life. She is vivid, always on the go. I don’t think she ever sits still. This is an extraordinary girl,” said Erica Johansson, another family friend.
‘YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE’
The GoFundMe drive evolved from a collection started by teachers at the Frelinghuysen Middle School, where Hedda is an 8th grader.
A neighbor, Melissa Archuleta, came up with the Ribbons for Hedda idea.
“I had seen a heart on a tree that somebody had put for something else, and it made me think how nice it would be to do that for Hedda and her family, so they could see the love and support of their friends and family near and far,” Archuleta said.
The Ribbons for Hedda Facebook page explains how to obtain ribbons.
All of this support has deeply touched Hedda and the family, Camilla said. “Our community is so fantastic,” she said.
Hedda has seen selfies of fans with her ribbons, from the Morristown Green to Colorado peaks, posted online.
“She is very excited about that. It makes her happy,” Camilla said. “She’s been in the hospital so long. It’s encouraging to see people are caring. It’s just another way for her to get more strength and fight hard.”
Hedda longs to visit relatives in Sweden, or to bring them here. Camilla said she suspects this is how Hedda will spend the GoFundMe money.
“It’s just about love and belief. You have to believe. You learn that things are not impossible. You have to believe you can do it.”
Being there for Hedda counts most for the family at this moment, her mother said.
“It’s togetherness that matters. When you get to this stage of the nightmare, to get together, and make jokes together, that is important.”