Jessica Schmidt: The strongest nine-year-old girl in the world

October 13, 2008

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

Jessica Schmidt – daddy’s little girl, likes princesses, is in Girl Scouts, and seems like any other girl in the fourth grade.

She loves animals, especially horses, and her dream is to be a horse trainer when she grows up – a typical dream shared by many girls her age.

But Jessica is far from typical. In fact, her mother, Lisa Schmidt, a 1997 graduate of Delano High School, calls her the strongest nine-year-old girl in the world.

Looking at her tiny build, one wouldn’t think of her as strong, but this little girl is living proof that strength has many meanings and can come in small packages.

It was March 20, 2007, when she wiped tears from her face and said goodbye to her daddy, Richard Schmidt, a 1995 graduate of Delano High School.

Richard died from Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), a hereditary type of cancer. This disease also claimed the life of his father, Roger Schmidt, in 2002.

Losing grandpa and losing daddy would seem enough for any child to struggle with, but recently, it was discovered that Jessica has the same disease.

When Jessica started complaining of back pain, Lisa immediately worried this could be what took her husband away from her.

“After some tests, they said let’s wait and see what happens. Bring her back in six months,” said Lisa Schmidt. “I said ‘no way.’ I took her to the Mayo Clinic. Waiting just wasn’t an option.”

Unfortunately, this mother’s worst fears were confirmed when the tests resulted in the diagnosis of FAP Gardners Syndrome. Jessica’s back pain was due to a large tumor across 70 percent of her back, extending from her ribs to her tail bone

According to cancer.net, Gardners Syndrome is a variant form of FAP. People suffering with this syndrome develop masses or tumors in many different organs of their body. FAP Gardners Syndrome is a genetic condition, and can be passed from generation to generation. This is just what Richard hoped would not happen.

“Before he died, he wrote a letter to me,” Lisa recalled with tears welling up in her eyes. “One thing he said was that he hoped he hadn’t passed this on to the kids.”

With three children, 11-year-old Cory, nine-year-old Jessica, and six-year-old Zachary, this was both Richard and Lisa’s worst fear.

Over the summer, genetic testing was performed on all three children. The boys tested negative for FAP Garner’s Syndrome, meaning they do not have the gene and can’t pass it on, but Jessica wasn’t as lucky as her brothers.

“Richard didn’t know right away that this is how his dad died, said Lisa. “And we didn’t know Richard had it or could pass it on to our kids, either.”

The large tumor in Jessica’s back is pre-desmoid. A desmoid tumor is a benign soft tissue tumor that is very difficult to remove because they intertwine extensively with the surrounding tissues and they adhere tenaciously to surrounding structures and organs. She also has osteoma tumors in her colon, stomach, small intestine, and on her head.

“She has constant back pain,” said Lisa. “You would never know she’s sick though. She doesn’t let this get her down and doesn’t complain.”

Jessica was accepted into the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but was having a difficult time deciding what her wish would be.

Did she want to do something with horses like riding lessons or spend time on a horse ranch? Or did she want to go to Disney World with her family?

This decision was easily made when Susan de Laittre of Montrose offered to help with one of these wishes. As the owner of Astound Training Center, de Laittre has 47 years in horses and remembers being a little girl who loved horses – just like Jessica.

After taking second place in the Trainer’s Challenge of the Unwanted horse through the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation, Gypsy the quarter horse was trained, and very much wanted by Jessica.

She spent time with a patient de Laittre, who showed her how to groom Gypsy, give her snacks, and even ride her. The smile on Jessica’s face was contagious and enough to melt one’s heart.

Spending time with de Laittre and Gypsy was a dream come true for Jessica, and now her dream to go to Disney World will also become a reality.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation will be sending the Schmidt family to Disney World this winter. They will be taken to the airport by limo, and given wrist bands which will put them at the front of any line while at the theme park.

What the future holds for the strongest nine-year-old girl in the world is uncertain. The road she travels is a difficult one.

Not only does she have to deal with this horrible disease, but she struggles with the loss of her father.

“She told me she asked Santa for three things; a guitar, Baby Alive, and a fur-real friend,” said Lisa. “Then, she said she also asked God for one little thing – to give her daddy back.”

The Schmidt family currently lives in Annandale. An account for Jessica and her family has been set up at Security State Bank of Maple Lake, 100 Hwy. 55 E. PO Box 449, Maple Lake, MN 55358.

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