Concord community grieves together after loss of Rundlett Middle schooler

  • Courtesy photo—Courtesy photo

  • Molly Banzhoff and her family. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 5/7/2016 9:15:38 PM

The hallways of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s pediatric intensive care unit overflowed this week with hundreds of visitors who all came for one person.

One after another, members of the Concord community came to say goodbye to 13-year-old Molly Banzhoff, a beloved daughter, accomplished dancer and friend to many. They held her hand, shared memories and comforted her mother Barb Higgins, father Kenny Banzhoff and sister Gracie.

“I’m just really going to miss her,” Higgins said through tears during an interview Friday night. “She’s just so much fun to be with. It will be hard for all of us.”

Last weekend, Molly was rushed to the emergency room, experiencing a severe migraine and vomiting. Higgins said her daughter started having migraines on April 15, but each trip to the doctor revealed nothing and she kept getting sent home.

On Sunday, doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock did a CAT scan and discovered a tumor in Molly’s brain that had ruptured. They performed emergency surgery to remove the tumor, hoping it would reduce the swelling in her brain.

But within the next few days, doctors told Molly’s family devastating news; she had not regained any neurological function.

“We knew pretty much by Tuesday night that she wouldn’t be waking up,” Higgins said. “You want miracles, you want to believe the little elves at night will come and build Molly a new brain.”

The family decided to remove Molly from life support this Saturday, but they first wanted to give everyone who knew and loved her the chance to say goodbye.

Higgins, a Concord school board member and well-known former Concord High teacher and track coach, shared the news on Facebook.

What followed was an outpouring of community response that Higgins said has blown her away.

By the dozens, Molly’s friends, school and dance teachers and family members drove up to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“Molly doesn’t belong to me,” Higgins said. “She’s my daughter, but I drop her off in the morning and I see her in the evening. In all those hours, she’s somebody’s friend, somebody’s student, somebody’s dancer, somebody’s bestie. She doesn’t belong to me. It didn’t cross my mind at all not to have everybody come.”

Higgins said the most touching moments this week came from other Rundlett Middle School students who said Molly reached out to them and was kind to them when they had just moved to school or if they were struggling in class.

“She knew it was the right thing to do,” Higgins said.

Those who could not be by Molly’s side this week flooded Facebook with tributes to her. Students and friends of family in the Concord area and as far away as Londonderry and Nashua wore pink in her honor Friday.

Nearly 500 people have so far donated over $26,000 to the family on YouCaring.com, after one of Higgins’s former students, Molly Rider, started the initiative as a way to help with costs and show support.

“There’s so much of an outpouring of support already, it felt like everyone was looking for a way to step into bigger support,” Rider said.

Rider set up the YouCaring page late Monday night with a goal of raising $1,000 to help out with the family’s medical fees and travel costs to Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

By the time Rider woke up the following morning, people had already donated three times what she expected, and the amount has been climbing steadily. Rider kept raising the goal amount; the last time she adjusted it was to $15,000 earlier this week but donors have far outpaced that number.

Rider said she wanted to do something to support the Higgins-Banzhoff family, and said Higgins was an “unforgettable” mentor.

“She was always a true support and is a true support,” Rider said.

Rider reached out to Higgins a few years ago when she was preparing to run a half marathon for advice on training. At that time, she also met Higgins’ daughters, Molly and Gracie.

“Just from that brief encounter, talking about all they were doing and how they were supporting other people in their neighborhood, you couldn’t help but smile,” Rider said. “I was honored to see it, just excited for Barb to have these two amazing girls.”

Higgins said the amount raised has left her speechless.

“That, I can’t explain, and I’m utterly humbled,” she said. “I don’t even know how to respond to that, it’s awesome.”

As of Friday night, the crowds had left the pediatric intensive care unit and the four members of the Higgins-Banzhoff family were together in Molly’s room, preparing to say their own goodbyes in the morning.

“Tonight, it’s us,” Higgins said. “Right now, this minute, we’re all pretty good. I’m looking at Gracie right now, and I’m looking at Molly between us. The TV is on mute, sweet Molly is lying on her side, looking adorable.”

Higgins said she will especially miss the little things, like seeing her two girls snuggled in Gracie’s bed binge-watching the TV show Friends. The sisters are only two years apart and were inseparable.

“The two of them are as close as close can be,” Higgins said. “It’s not Molly, it’s not Gracie. It’s Molly-and-Gracie, no space.

“I feel like I must have done something right to have such great kids.”

Those who want to donate can do so at youcaring.com/HelpMollyBeatTumor. A fund to support the Banzhoff-Higgins family has also been set up at the Concord Dance Academy, where Molly was a student. It is at booster.com/show-your-support-for-molly-banzhoff.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)




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