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Menomonee Falls neighborhood gathers to celebrate birthday of girl who died from brain tumor

Posted: 5:26 PM, Apr 29, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-29 18:42:38-04
Blue ribbon on tree in Menomonee Falls neighborhood

MENOMONEE FALLS — A Menomonee Falls family who lost their daughter to a rare, inoperable brain tumor a few years ago is reminded by their community that her memory is still very much alive.

What was supposed to be a difficult day for the Verhaalens on Sunday turned into one that brought them joy.

“Yesterday would have been my daughter’s 15th birthday, and I woke up to a text message saying drive around your neighborhood today,” Tricia Verhaalen said.

Verhaalen followed the advice to find 500 blue ribbons on mailboxes, trees, signs and fence posts, her late daughter Ali’s favorite color.

“I couldn’t even see straight, crying, balling actually,” she said.

Family friend Amy Ausloos came up with the idea.

“We put the ribbons on their way to work, on their way to school, we put it everywhere they went so they could feel that joy, they could see her everywhere,” Ausloos said.

Five years ago, Ali was taken to the hospital for what her family thought was the flu. It turned out to be a cancerous brain tumor called DIPG.

“My daughter lost her every single ability. She couldn’t see, she couldn’t hear, she couldn’t walk, she couldn’t talk,” Verhaalen said.

The inoperable and therefore terminal tumor took Ali’s life 7.5 months after the diagnosis.

“That’s the worst diagnosis that you could possibly give them,” said Dr. Jeff Knipstein of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Knipstein said more research has gone into DIPG lately, but he believes we’re still decades away from a cure.

“I would hope that in 20 years we’re actually able to tell people that have DIPG that they won’t die of their tumor,” he said.

A couple of months ago, we introduced you to Emma Mertens of Hartland, another girl in Waukesha County battling the same condition.

“We put the ribbons on their way to work, on their way to school, we put it everywhere they went so they could feel that joy, they could see her everywhere.” — family friend Amy Ausloos

“I think about this little girl and I pray for her every day,” Verhaalen said. “I pray for a miracle. I pray for her mother every day.”

While the blue ribbons carry a symbolic meaning for the Verhaalens, the family was pleasantly surprised to find out each one raised money for much needed research into DIPG.

“I do not wish another mother to feel this way,” Verhaalen said.

The tribute to Ali’s life raised $2,000 to hopefully find a cure.