Hundreds of mourners paid their respects Sunday to Jasmina Anema, the courageous 6-year-old girl who with her irrepressible spirit inspired thousands to become bone-marrow donors – and even managed to win the hearts of Rihanna and President Obama
“Jasmina’s life was short but incredible,” family friend Karen Detrick told the tearful crowd gathered at Industria Studios in New York City’s West Village. “Her unyielding spirit moved a city, then a nation, then the whole world.”
With her adoring mother, Thea Anema, at her bedside, Jasmina lost her battle with a rare, aggressive leukemia on Jan. 27 at NYU Langone Medical Center, where she had spent much of the last year.
Throughout her ordeal, the spunky kindergartner who loved chasing butterflies and playing dress up remained upbeat and concerned for others, especially her mother. “Jasmina would say, ‘Mama, don’t cry, don’t cry,’ ” family friend Heidi Damico told those at the memorial service. “She would say, ‘Everything is beautiful. Everything will be okay.’ But on Wednesday, the day she passed, Jasmina said to Thea, ‘Mama, it’s okay to cry.’ ”
Before the service, mourners sobbed as they paid their respects to Jasmina, who lay in a tiny white coffin, dressed in her favorite color, pink. Inside the casket was a picture of her with President Obama, whom she met in December through the Make-a-Wish-Foundation. During their 10-minute talk in the Oval Office, the president gave her a box of M&Ms with his name on them, a yoyo bearing the presidential seal – and a big hug when she left.
“It was like they were really best buddies,” Jasmina’s mom told New York’s Daily News. “It was just how he spoke to her, like a daddy. It was so sweet. He was really relating to her.”
Obama and his wife, Michelle, issued a statement when Jasmina died, commending her for her “tremendous bravery in the face of adversity and her ability to stay positive throughout her battle.” The president also reached out to Jasmina’s mom to offer his personal condolences. “He took time out of his busy schedule to call her,” said one of her friends at the service. “That meant a lot to her.”
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Family friend Jill Hennessy, who starred in Law & Order and Crossing Jordan, paid tribute by singing a song she wrote herself. “Jasmina, you are an angel,” Hennessy told the crowd. “I think you kind of made angels of a lot of people in this room who really got together and achieved some huge, incredible things and made people incredibly aware [of the need for bone-marrow donors].
Katharina Harf of DKMS Americas, the world’s largest bone-marrow registry, worked with Jasmina and her mom to hold drives and find a bone-marrow match for Jasmina. “Jasmina’s spunky attitude and big smile was irresistible,” Harf told PEOPLE. “I will carry her smile in my heart always.”
During Jasmina’s fight, her mother vowed to save as many leukemia patients as possible by recruiting one million donors to the registry – a goal she says she still aims to reach. (To learn how to become a donor and save more lives, please visit dkmsamericas.org.)
As a family friend said, “Jasmina got that big heart of hers from her mother, who gave her an incredible life and was by her side the entire time she was sick.”