Something was wrong with Abby.
The little girl with the bright blue eyes and sweet smile had always been on the go, an active toddler who loved playing with her older brother and sister in their Atlanta home. But her parents started to get worried in the spring of 2006 when their baby girl was having trouble keeping her balance. She was falling down a lot. She stumbled while trying to push her doll stroller.
The family hoped for the best. Maybe it was just an inner ear infection, they thought. So they took Abby to the local hospital. A CT scan was ordered. The results were devastating for the young parents. Their little girl, just 23 months old, had cancer.
Abby was diagnosed with a brain tumor on March 3. Three days later, she underwent surgery to remove the tumor. At that point, she could no longer walk. Abby suffered through 12 exhausting months of chemotherapy and six weeks of daily radiation.
Abby's final radiation treatment took place on May 28, 2007. The summer passed and she gradually regained some strength. By this fall, she was even well enough to start preschool. But in September, an MRI exam revealed that Abby had three more tumors. These were on her spine and inoperable. The only option was more chemotherapy and radiation sessions. Abby has had multiple blood transfusions, and in November, she spent more time at the hospital than at home.
Abby's aunt, Christy Bennett, wanted people to know about pediatric brain disease and the toll it takes.
"I was watching what Abby was going through every day," Bennett says. "That made me want to raise as much money as possible to help research the disease. If you see a child suffer like this, then you want to find a cure."
So Bennett set up an online fundraising page at Firstgiving.com, a Web site where individuals raise money for nonprofit organizations in the U.S. There, using a template provided by the service, she set up a Web page. She wrote about Abby's struggle, and asked people to support her participation in the annual William's Walk & Run, an event to raise money for the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children, a nonprofit organization founded to help families of children with brain and spinal cord tumors.
The Web page, dubbed Abby's Angels, was up and running on Oct. 17. The reaction was swift and surprising. In just three weeks, friends, family and complete strangers gave more than $19,000.
"I'm just amazed at how generous people have been," says Bennett.
As the year draws to a close, Americans are busy donating money to charities across the country. Donors are expected to give more than $100 billion to charities between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, according to Charity Navigator.
One area that is particularly popular is online giving. Nearly $7 billion was donated online last year. That's still a small percentage of overall giving (about $220 billion for individuals), but it's doubling every two years, according to Network for Good, one of the Internet's leading charitable exchanges.
The appeal of online charitable donating is its convenience. "For the donor, it's a huge time saver," says Bill Strathmann, CEO of Network for Good, a Web site that includes listings of more than 1.5 million U.S. charities and database of 40,000 volunteer opportunities. The nonprofit was founded in 2001 by America Online, Cisco Systems and Yahoo!.