Around her Tang Soo Do martial arts studio, 10-year-old Abby Whitford was naturally generous, her instructor said: If someone brought in cookies or doughnuts for their birthday, and Abby saw someone without a treat, she’d break hers in half.
Abby’s generosity will now help save lives.
Her parents, Paul and Sarah, are working with Live On Nebraska to donate their daughter’s organs. The girl died this week after she was struck by a vehicle in Papillion.
Doug Lewis, owner and chief instructor of Omaha Tang Soo Do — a form of Korean martial arts — said the Whitford family’s decision was emotionally difficult but consistent with how Abby lived her life.
“Sarah Whitford has said to please let people know that although it’s a very difficult decision, this is one we felt was an immediate ‘yes,’ ” Lewis said. “That would be Abby’s wish, because she was always willing to help other people.
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“The fact that one child’s unfortunate passing could then, however, mean someone else living — and not just one person, but maybe more — is just an overwhelming joy.”
Abby’s life was cut short this week when she was struck by a vehicle Tuesday while using a crosswalk in downtown Papillion with her younger brother. The Trumble Park Elementary School fifth grader died Thursday in the hospital.
She was ecstatic, Lewis said, on the day she received her first Tang Soo Do uniform — white top, white pants, white belt. The instructors like to joke that on that day, the kids become “marshmallows.”
“Abby was just tickled pink,” Lewis said.
But Abby’s spirit was far from soft and squishy. In a photo from that day, Abby, donning her uniform, looks confident: Her left fist rests against her hip as she thrusts her right fist into the air. Lewis described her as inquisitive and energetic.
She began her martial arts career watching from the sidelines as her older brother, Connor, practiced. But after several months, Lewis said, Abby was ready to jump in. She never looked back.
The studio teaches its students how to safely fall forward and backward without injury. Learning the skill usually involves the use of exercise balls as a precaution, but after testing it out, Abby had a question: Did she have to use the ball?
Lewis said Abby shared a bond with her siblings, middle school student Connor and first grader Ben. She had progressed enough in Tang Soo Do to advance to the next rank, but she chose to stay behind to continue practicing with Ben.
“They’re just really close,” Lewis said of the siblings.
Ben was with Abby when she was struck. He trailed behind her as the two used a downtown Papillion crosswalk on Washington Street, heading to Sump Memorial Library.
In a recent social media post, Abby’s mother borrowed a line from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to describe her daughter:
“And though she be but little, she is fierce.”