In the rural town of Fountain Green, Utah, pop. 1,078, the post office on State Street is overflowing with cards, letters and gifts for 6-year-old Addie Fausett, whose Christmas wish is to know that she has friends.
Addie, who stopped growing when she was 3 due to a mysterious and still undiagnosed illness, isn’t expected to live much beyond another year.
She can’t play with anyone besides her two older sisters, because her condition occasionally causes her to lash out with uncontrollable scratching and biting.
“One of her symptoms is cerebral atrophy,” the progressive loss of brain cells over time,” Tami Fausett, 29, Addie’s mother, tells PEOPLE.
“For the past year and a half, her behavior has been so unpredictable that she can’t play with other kids or have friends. It’s been really hard on everyone, not to mention heartbreaking.”
Hoping to boost Addie’s spirits as she celebrates what is expected to be her last Christmas, her family started a Facebook campaign, asking for people to send Christmas cards to hang in Addie’s room.
“My mom came up with the idea,” Tami says. “She said, ‘If everyone writes her a card, we can tell Addie these are her friends.’ So that’s what we’ve done. We just never dreamed we’d get such an enormous response.”
Since Thanksgiving, about 3,000 cards have been opened and hung on the wall by Addie and her sisters, Shayley, 10, and Audree, 7. There an estimated half-million unopened letters still sitting in postal bags.
“We have hundreds of thousands more still to open,” says Tami. “They’re coming from all over the country, plus Saudi Arabia, Germany, Canada and all points in between.
“It’s overwhelming. On one day alone, 100,000 came in. It won’t be long before we run out of space, but that’s OK. It’s fun to see Addie so happy.”
Born healthy at a normal weight, Addie didn’t start showing symptoms that something was wrong until age 3, says Tami. “She suddenly stopped growing and nobody could figure out why. She became shaky and fell a lot, and by the time she was 4, she was completely off the growth chart.”
Now weighing only 23 lbs., Addie requires a feeding tube and constant monitoring. Baffled by her condition, neurologists at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City recently told Tami that her daughter probably has no longer than a year to live.
“I’ve never seen anything like it – there are no answers,” says Addie’s pediatrician, Rich Adams of Provo, Utah.
Gotten Progressively Worse
“Since her prognosis, Addie has gotten progressively worse. She is becoming more aggressive, even violent at times. She’ll bite one of her family members, then she will suddenly become cute and lovable again. It’s incredibly sad.”
“I would trade places with her in a second if I could,” says Tami, who is also grieving over the death of her estranged husband, who died suddenly just days after Addie’s Christmas card campaign started.
“It’s been touching to get so many cards from complete strangers who care,” she says.
“If you could see Addie’s face when she opens them – she loves seeing the pictures other kids draw for her, and she loves to watch her sisters hang each new card on the wall.
“It’s like Christmas every day. When Addie’s gone, that’s a memory we’ll always cherish.”