"Abby was a remarkable girl and showed such extraordinary grace and fortitude," Katie Couric tells PEOPLE

By Michele Corriston
Updated December 11, 2015 12:10 PM
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Shapiro Family

When Katie Couric learned a colleague’s 16-year-old cousin was fighting for her life, she felt compelled to help.

That girl, Abby Shapiro, went from being a top high school swimming recruit to battling bone cancer. To raise her spirits, Couric reached out to her network of celebrity contacts, asking them to send videos and messages to Abby. But one star, supermodel Karlie Kloss, went even further, establishing a correspondence with Abby and rushing to visit her in the hospital when she learned her health was declining.

Sadly, Abby died on Labor Day.

“Abby was a remarkable girl and showed such extraordinary grace and fortitude,” Couric tells PEOPLE.

On Tuesday, Couric honored her memory – and Kloss’ act of kindness – in a piece for TIME that she calls “a love letter to her and her family.”

“It was so heartbreaking because I thought back to the days when my girls were 16 and looking at colleges, and the road ahead looked so full of hope and promise, excitement, and then I thought about Abby at 16, facing such a different, terrifying fate, and it just broke my heart,” Couric says of why Abby’s story stood out. “I really wanted to do anything I could to help her.”

Overall, Couric says her essay is about compassion and sharing the simple “gift of kindness.”

“You don’t have to be a celebrity to have a meaningful, important and life-changing relationship with someone,” she explains. “I think oftentimes when someone is diagnosed with cancer, it’s a scary thing for the healthy person because it makes them come face to face with their own mortality. Often, people feel uncomfortable or awkward, and they just don’t know what to do.”

And though stars use social media to connect with their fans, Couric believes there’s no substitute for interacting face-to-face.

“This was sort of a cautionary tale for modern times in that technology allows us to have quote-unquote ‘relationships’ with people that they’re really not true relationships,” she says. “I think this essay emphasizes the need for human contact and true humanity.”

Read an excerpt from Couric’s article below, and head to Time.com for the full story.

On a warm afternoon in late September, over a glass of iced tea on the patio of the Willard Hotel, Abby s parents told me that once Karlie had called Abby to say she was having a rough day and that Abby was the only person she wanted to talk to. Knowing how special this made Abby feel, they said, was profound.

I never got to meet Abby. But after reading the testimonials in the program for her funeral, I learned that she was loyal, determined, fearless, a brilliant mimic, witty, warm. She had a best friend named Eleanor and loved cheese and piecrust. One day she was looking at colleges. Six months later, she was gone. It s futile to ask the one question that tortures those who lose someone to cancer, or to anything else for that matter. But that didn t stop me from asking it anyway: Why?

It s almost too painful to think about the enormous hole her death has left and the unrelenting pain her parents are enduring. They told me that one of the few sources of relief from their sadness came from the extraordinary people who cared for their daughter during her last days.