Athens residents take care of their own. On Jan. 27, they will come together to benefit Ashley and Ian Smith and their unborn daughter, Scarlett.
Entrance to the event is $10 for adults, and $5 for children 6 to 12. Gluten-free and vegetarian options will be available. Salad, bread and cookies are part of the meal.
Ashley and Ian, both Ohio University graduates who came to Athens and never left, announced they were expecting their second child early last fall. A picture in the flier for the spaghetti dinner event shows the couple and their daughter Ryleigh standing on College Green. Ashley holds a newborn onesie printed with the words “Future Bobcat!”
However, the good news didn’t last for long. During an ultrasound appointment when Ashley was 18 weeks pregnant, doctors diagnosed the couple’s unborn daughter with a life-threatening condition called a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. That means Scarlett’s diaphragm did not fully close during first trimester development, allowing her abdominal organs to develop in the chest cavity instead of the abdomen.
Ashley and Ian had never heard of the condition before, but soon learned that it is just as common as cystic fibrosis and similar life-threatening birth defects.
“It's not talked about, it's not as heavily researched and it's underfunded,” Ashley said. “You hear a lot of research around spina bifida but you never hear anything about congenital diaphragmatic hernia.”
Learning about Scarlett’s condition hit Matt and Katie Thomson hard. As parents, they could hardly imagine what they would have to watch their friends go through.
“When she first was explaining this to me … I just felt so helpless,” Katie said. “I left that conversation just so sad that this was her reality and something (they) were going to have to navigate.”
Helplessness turned into hope when they came up with the idea for a fundraiser. As an event planner for OU, Matt wanted to use his strengths to throw a big event in the Smiths’ honor. He and Katie decided to host the spaghetti dinner for the couple.
Since the news of Scarlett’s condition and the event came out, the Smiths and the Thomsons have seen overwhelming support from other Athens residents. Ashley and Ian have received numerous cards, words of encouragement and donations to their page from complete strangers.
“There's just something kind of moving about (this story) and I think people really do envision themselves in that situation and think 'I would want that support,’ ” Katie said.
Through the generosity of local Athens businesses such as Jackie O’s, Casa Nueva and Donkey Coffee, Matthew has received several gift certificates, themed baskets and one particularly spicy salsa set to be raffled off at the event. He was awed at the enthusiastic support he received just by sending out one email.
“The flow of support has been just crazy,” Matthew said. “I knew that about Athens, but it's been super cool to actually see that happening.”
The event and support have given Ashley and Ian a positive place to focus their energy, Ashley said. Looking to the future, the Smith family is eager to get through the upcoming months and return the support of those who have helped them.
“(I’m) just endlessly thankful for such great friends,” Ashley said.