HOLMBERG: Gasping for life, and grasping it

Posted at 12:16 AM, Aug 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-01 07:07:02-04

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - How do you measure a life? In years, months, minutes?

For those like 14-year-old  Alyssa Jane Doane of Mechanicsville, you measure it in breaths.

Her cystic fibrosis was so severe, she only could use about 16 percent of her lungs. She had to fight for her life since she was a little girl.

Her close friend, cystic fibrosis fighter Amy McCracken, wanted to take Alyssa sky diving so she could fly through “all the air in the world.”

They never made it, although they got goggles for the trip. The goggles showed up in pictures. The goggles reminded them of their bond, and our bond with the air that most of us take for granted.

Alyssa may have gasped for life, but she was loved for her grasp of life.

At Alyssa’s crowded visitation Wednesday night at Bennett Funeral Home in Mechanicsville, hundreds -  if not thousands of people - came to celebrate a young life that defined grace, and to stand with her parents and other relatives.

“Alyssa loved you with her whole heart,” said family friend Renee Courtney. “When Alyssa opens up and greets you, you can’t help but love that child.”

You may have heard a little of her story.

Folks in her community went to work in 2010 when they heard Alyssa wasn’t going to have her wish come true – that the star of  “Extreme Makeover - Home Edition”, wasn’t coming to transform the family home.

“It first started out, we were just going to do Alyssa’s room,” Courtney recalled. “It just exploded. We were able to go into the house and do every single room.”

So many friends and neighbors and helpful hearts showed up for the grand reveal, the street was shut down in the neighborhood. It made the news.

Alyssa spent a good bit of her life in the hospital. She died there Monday. She ran out of breaths.

Each year about 500 people with cystic fibrosis – most of them young – also run out of breaths.

At Wednesday evening’s visitation, there were tears and hugs and deep breaths for a young girl who couldn’t.

So how do you measure a life?

On her twitter page (@alyssa_doane) Alyssa gives her answer:

“Life’s not measured by the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.”

A celebration of her life will be held 11 a.m. Tuesday at Broaddus Memorial Church on Pole Green Road in Mechanicsville.