Madi's Garden reminds students at Cypress Creek Elementary School about their classmate.
When students at Cypress Creek Elementary School on Williamson Boulevard in Port Orange walk past an outdoor classroom and vegetable garden, they also pass a small garden dedicated to one of their classmates, Madilyn Nicole Patrick.
Madi, as she was known to all, was about to start the third grade in August 2017, when she died from a rare form of liver cancer. Madi’s Garden is a tribute to her life. It also symbolizes the experience, strength, and hope of a little girl with a big smile, bigger heart, and a joy for living far beyond her eight years.
“Madi was a beautiful, sweet girl. She touched a lot of lives and made a lot of friends,” Katie Jontes, Madi’s second-grade teacher, said.
Madi was the daughter of Sean and Alisha Patrick, both professional horse trainers. Their love for animals rubbed off on Madi at an early age.
Sean Patrick said she was obsessed with butterflies. She started chasing them when she was 2 and always loved them.
When hummingbirds started coming around their house, Madi loved them as well. If she would find a nest with eggs in it, she would insist they were hummingbirds, whether they were or not, and do everything she could to protect the eggs.
Her garden at Cypress Creek is loaded with plants that attract both. Fire bushes, milk weed plants, and variegated purple vincas surround a stone marker with her name, a butterfly, and cowboy boots and hat. Surrounding her marker are painted rocks decorated with various pictures placed there by her friends and classmates.
Nurse Rhonda deCillis and Teresa Weaver, Madi’s homebound teacher, gathered teachers and staff to create the garden.
“We wanted to do something that everyone could see,” deCillis said. “The first September after she passed away, we collected money for the Childhood Cancer Foundation, which is what Sean (Patrick) wanted in her memory at her service. We wanted to do something more lasting.”
Donations for the garden came from many different places. Lowe’s in Port Orange donated plants and rocks. Valor Signs donated the memorial stone. Kula Yoga for Kids, Paradise Island Tourism, and Politis and Motovina also made donations.
The school raised $700 for the Childhood Cancer Foundation in 2017, and another $700 in 2018. The Live Like Cameron Foundation in Flagler County received some of the monies, as well.
“We go by it (the garden) often, my first-graders,” Jontes said, “and I tell them this is a garden in memory of someone. She loved butterflies and we’re seeing them more and more over there, and they’re like, ‘Mrs. Jontes, there’s a butterfly, is that Madi?’”
Madi wanted to be a vet when she grew up. When friends would visit her at home they had the privilege to play with an array of animals—bunnies, hamsters, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, horses, and the occasional bird.
Even after a particularly strong bout with chemotherapy, Madi was on her horse, Dez, flying around the arena at a brisk lope (slow run), living life to the fullest.
When Madi was sick and Weaver would work with her on her school lessons, they would garden after they were done. The plants they started at Madi’s home have now become part of an expanded garden that Sean Patrick and his girlfriend, Deb, tend daily. Butterflies and hummingbirds surround the porch. She has two gardens in her honor.
Madi was first diagnosed with a tumor on her liver at the end of kindergarten, in 2015. She was taken to Arnold Palmer Childrens Hospital in Orlando where she underwent an 11.5-hour surgery to remove it. Madi stayed in the hospital for about 1 1/2 months while she recuperated and received chemotherapy.
She returned to school in November of that year, and stayed cancer free for a long time. Toward the end of second grade, however, the cancer returned. She had to undergo another surgery but this time, could not recover. She died on Aug. 7, 2017.
The Childhood Cancer Foundation was supportive of the Patricks during Madi’s illness. Sean Patrick donates his time and experience to help with fundraising events to support other families having to live through the difficult diagnosis of cancer.
The next time students and staff at Cypress Creek Elementary School see a butterfly floating by or a hummingbird racing to and fro, they will remember Madi.