NORTHGLENN — For the Stegmueller family, there are days they will never forget. Saturday, May 8, is one of them.
Mary Stegmueller recently turned five-years-old but has already lived through more than most adults. In October of 2020, Mary was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), which is a rare, incurable, and inoperable form of a brain tumor. "Probably one of the hardest days that I think we've ever had... When we were diagnosed in October, we weren't sure that we were all going to be together for Christmas... We make every day count," said Mary's father, Bobby Stegmueller.
Doctors told the family that typically, children with DIPG live for six to nine months after the diagnosis. The Stegmueller's said around 10% of children make it to two years. Mary endured 30 rounds of radiation over six weeks. "The second she would get home from radiation, from being put under every day, anesthesia, she'd be like, okay, let's go to school," said Mary's mother, Kristin Stegmueller.
"We all need to be a little more Mary strong."
Mary is fighting the cancer with everything she has, trying experimental CAR T-cell therapy in California. In March, she was there for 35 days, with 26 days of in-patient care. Following that round of treatment, Kristin said there was a `10% reduction in her daughter's inoperable brain tumor. "Treatments are going well right now, but we don't want to live in any kind of regret," said Bobby.
Mary will be going back to California soon for round two of her treatment. "It's given Mary the chance to fight. A lot of kids that get this diagnosis don't get this opportunity to fight. So, no matter what happens, we're so proud of her. She's been so brave, and she's had so much support and so many people standing behind her, and if this is another step to cures for the future, then it's all worth it," said Bobby.
Mary qualifies for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "When she was told she could have anything in her heart's desire, with Make-A-Wish, she was like, well I want to go to Disney World and see Cinderella's castle. But with COVID, they're not allowing travel wishes," said Kristin.
When Brittnie Kreutzer heard Mary's story, she knew she could help. Kreutzer is the membership director for Agent of Excellence, a group of real estate professionals who love Disney and originated in Colorado Springs. The organization now stretches across the nation, and even into Canada. In around three hours, Kreutzer said the 172 members had raised over $6,000 to send Mary and her family to Disney World. "We don't have the red tape, so we can do what Make-A-Wish can't do right now, and that is provide the pixie dust and the magic that these families need," said Kreutzer.
The trip is planned for mid-June, and Mary's parents knew about that element of the surprise. However, they had no idea Cinderella would be coming into their neighborhood with a horse-drawn carriage to invite Mary to her castle. "I was floored. That was more than we could have ever asked for, dreamed of, hoped for... With everything going on with her, I've been so concerned that she wouldn't get her wish, because I didn't want to let her down... To do all this for a family she had never met, people around the country, helping support her, is just huge," said Mary's mom, Kristin.
Kreutzer recruited Corrine Kurtz to sew a dress Mary had designed for shirts originally worn to her treatment. Those shirts have been turned into a fundraiser, with the Stegmueller's saying the proceeds go toward medical expenses. "It has so much more meaning than anything that could be bought in the store," said Kurtz, who donated the handmade dress to the family.
Kurtz felt a personal connection with the Stegmueller's, even though she had never met them. "My son was diagnosed with a brain tumor in September, and when she asked me to make it, I just felt like I had to... we don't know them, but we pray," said Kurtz.
Mary's mom said her daughter is excited to wear the dress at her next doctor's appointment and round of treatment, in addition to the Disney World trip.
Mary has started assembling bags filled with all of the essentials for other children going through her same treatment in California.
Carriages of Colorado discounted the price for this event.
CLICK HERE to follow along with Mary's story.
The video version of this story says Mary is four years old. She was four at the time of her diagnosis, and has since turned five.