Mazie’s Mission Brings Cheer to Children at Duke Hospital

— Lisa Brown • • February 2017

Raising kids can be a challenge, even on the best of days. Imagine, then, having a child who from birth seems to be struggling physically with something that no one can diagnose.

Mazie's Mission

Mazie doing what she loves:
showing her cows.

The Bunn family tried for years to get answers as to why their daughter, Mazie, even as young as 2, was complaining of severe headaches. As she grew into a toddler and went on to kindergarten, the headaches persisted.

Ashley Webster, Mazie’s kindergarten teacher, was worried about her otherwise bright and energetic student.

“She was so outgoing and was my social butterfly in class,” Webster said. “She had such an impact on me, even before I knew about her diagnosis.”

Mazie missed a lot of school because of the pain, and the student Webster knew to be full of energy was becoming less and less so.

At a doctor’s recommendation, the family took Mazie to Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham to run more extensive tests.

Duke doctors soon discovered Mazie had a little known condition called Chiari malformation in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal because that part of the skull is abnormally small or misshapen.  Given the severity of Mazie’s pain and the likelihood of it continuing to worsen, her doctors recommended surgery.

At 7, Mazie was then, and still is, very active in 4-H. With Mazie just three weeks away from showing her cow at the North Carolina State Fair, one of her doctors asked her if she had anything to say about the surgery. She thought for a moment then said, “I’ve worked very hard to get ready for the fair. I’ve had these headaches for years, so three more weeks won’t matter.” The surgery was scheduled shortly after the fair.

Mazie's Mission

The kindergarten team at Rolesville Elementary and their students and families held a toy drive to help Mazie’s Mission.

Josh and Emily Bunn spent many hours at Duke before and after surgery. The holidays were approaching, and Mazie asked where the other children at Duke would be spending their time.

“I told her that the children had to stay in the hospital, which upset her,” Emily Bunn said.

Being an outgoing and compassionate child, Mazie asked if her family could collect toys to bring to the children who would be spending their holidays in hospital beds instead of home with family. This began Mazie’s Mission of delivering toys to hospitalized children at Duke. Donations poured in to the Bunns, and a 25-foot trailer was filled and delivered.

Mazie's Mission

Mazie herself helped deliver the toys
to the hospital at Duke last year.

As anyone who knows Mazie would expect, she hopes to make next year even bigger and better. In June, the Bunn family will sponsor the second Mazie’s Mile, a mile walk that last year raised $6,000, all of which went to the Chiari and Syringomyelia Foundation (CSF). There will also be another toy drive starting in September.

Two years after her surgery, Mazie, who is now homeschooled, still struggles with her health and has been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and epilepsy. Aware she will always need extra care and help, she maintains a positive attitude and outlook and is still concerned about the other children at Duke Children’s Hospital.

“She’s been a trouper and very strong through all of this. Her attitude has made it much easier on me,” said Emily.

Despite her continuing health issues, Mazie remains dedicated to the concept of giving back.

“I wanted to do this because it makes me feel good to make other people happy,” Mazie said. “When I was at Duke, everyone was so kind to me and always did so much to keep the kids happy that I wanted to give back so it could help the staff to help others.”