Shared from the 3/6/2020 The Providence Journal eEdition

A child who beat cancer, lost to a highway crash

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In a 2016 photo, Gisela Carrier, 12, of Smithfield, poses for a photo with Dorian Murray, of Westerly, who had drawn attention to his cancer as #Dstrong. [THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, FILE / MARY MURPHY]

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Mark Patinkin

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Gisela Carrier in an undated family photo.

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Gisela Carrier with her brother, Danny, in an undated family photo.

At first, this seemed too heartbreaking to write. A beautiful, courageous girl lost in an accident at 16.

After overcoming cancer.

Her name was Gisela Carrier – pronounced J’zella – and four years ago, I’d witnessed her battle.

In 2016, I joined her as she got weekly chemotherapy at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. She was only 12, but open to sharing her fight. Perhaps, Gisela felt, it might normalize it for others.

So we chatted as she sat on a cushioned exam table while a bag of vincristine was infused through a port below the front of her right shoulder.

She told me she wanted to work with dolphins as a marine biologist. She said she and her girlfriends loved Chinese food, talking, swimming, crafts and Taylor Swift.

Afterward, in the waiting room, she hung out with her buddy Dorian Murray, age 8. Dorian was a celebrity after his social media wish went viral — he said he wanted to be famous in China before going to heaven.

The two posed together for a picture that now more than ever, with both gone, pulls at the heart.

I interview a lot of people in my work, but Gisela was among those who stayed most deeply in my mind. Meeting her was like being touched by grace. And then came the news this Sunday. An accident on Route 195 in Seekonk. As backed-up traffic slowed to a stop, a pickup truck plowed into the back of a car. A 16-year-old girl, in the backseat while her mom and brother were in the front, was lost. It was Gisela Carrier. At first, I wasn’t sure whether to reach out. Then I saw a family member had started a GoFundMe page to help with funeral expenses at this link: gf.me/v/c/hqm/ gisela-carrier-memorial-fund So I sent a note through the page, asking if Gisela’s parents would like to share thoughts. They did, hoping a remembrance would honor their daughter.

Melanie Mott is Gisela’s mom. She’s now 40. She was there when I interviewed Gisela in 2016. They lived in Smithfield then, but later moved to New Bedford so Laney, as the mom is known, could take a job at the Stop & Shop warehouse in Assonet. Gisela’s dad Daniel, 41, still lives in Smithfield and works as an arborist. Although apart, they remained a loving team, parenting Gisela and her younger brother Danny,

14. They were on the phone together when we talked. I asked why they agreed at so difficult a time. Just so people know, said Laney, how hard Gisela fought to get well, and how much she brought to those around her. “Five years of chemo,” said Laney. “And all the side effects. She didn’t let it stop her.”

Gisela, Laney told me, had switched her career goal to nursing to help others fight cancer. She was so smart, added Daniel, there was no predicting how far she would go. This year, at New Bedford High, Gisela was taking Advanced Placement in subjects like chemistry and biology. She was already thinking about colleges, with her sights on warmer places down south. It made me ask: “Was she a palm-tree girl?” It got a laugh. “Yes,” said Laney. “Her Make-A-Wish trip was to Hawaii.” They went to Oahu when Gisela was 13 so she could swim with the dolphins. She even volunteered to have one push her up out of the water by her feet. “That’s pretty gutsy,” said Laney.

Gisela loved all kinds of music — pop, country and Christian. Laney said she was the kind of kid who, during school lunch, would go sit with a student who was eating alone. I saw it myself, that day in the pediatric oncology waiting area. I watched as she approached other kids so they wouldn’t be left out. Her dad, Daniel, who attends Smithfield’s Awakening Church, developed a ritual of telling his kids to focus on gratitude. After the March 1 accident, and Gisela’s loss, their son Danny asked, “What do we have to be thankful for now?” Daniel responded, “We were blessed with Gisela’s presence for almost 17 years.”

Daniel and his son had that talk in Hasbro Children’s Hospital after the accident. Danny, in the front passenger seat, was treated for two days there for injuries. He had a concussion and staples in his head. Laney, who was driving, had a fractured spine. She is home now, too. Both parents said they are also thankful Danny was in the front, or he might have been lost, as well. Laney remembers slowing to a halt in traffic, and not even hearing brakes when the driver of the Silverado pickup plowed into the back of her 2001 Chrysler 300 around 8 p.m. Gisela was sitting alone in the back; all had seatbelts on. “I don’t know how the guy didn’t stop,” Laney told me. “All of a sudden I felt this impact and the airbags went off.” The chaos and her injuries prompted Laney to yell in alarm. Gisela, who’d been asleep, didn’t make a sound. The back of the car and backseat were crushed into the front seat. They had to wait for first responders to free Gisela. As they worked, Laney told her daughter she was there, and loved her. The rescuers later told Laney that Gisela was aware of her mom’s words. Laney is comforted by that. But Gisela passed away at the hospital.

Her parents are also comforted to know Gisela triumphed over acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Twice. She was diagnosed at age 7 and after years of treatment, she was declared cancer-free at 10. But exactly a year later, they found she had relapsed. It was a low point. Gisela knew what it meant: treatment, illness, maybe worse. But she remained upbeat. “No matter what this world threw at her,” Laney said, “and it threw some hard things her way, she always had a smile on her face.” Almost always. Laney added that there were, of course, low times. At one point, Gisela developed pancreatitis, couldn’t eat, and was on round-the-clock medications. But she persevered, and Laney said it taught her, as her mom, that no matter how bad life becomes, there is a brighter side once you get through it.

Gisela’s final treatment was on June 22 of 2016. The family had an “End of Chemo” party with 50 family and friends at their Smithfield home. It was the start of a new cancer-free life. Laney is thankful her daughter had those years. And despite so sudden an end, she and Daniel feel Gisela’s time on this earth was a gift. They both say they feel blessed. mpatinki@ providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7370 On Twitter:@markpatinkin

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