Grondahl, Paul. "Famous author corresponds with ailing child," Albany Times Union, December 22, 2002

CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. -- Once upon a time, a little girl who believed in magic fell in love with the Harry Potter books her mom read to her.

Her name was Catie Hoch. One day, doctors found a tumor in her kidney. She was 6. Neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer, quickly spread to her liver, lungs and spinal column.

Surgeons removed her kidney and adrenal gland, three-quarters of her liver and portions of her lungs. She endured seven rounds of high-dose chemotherapy, radiation and numerous clinical drug trials.

The sparkle drained from her blue eyes. She lost her curly blond hair. The treatments made her violently ill.

"She never complained or asked, "Why me?"' Catie's mom said. "She was a ray of sunshine."

Catie left her dad, two younger brothers and friends behind in their suburban Albany home when she and her mom moved to New York City while she received treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Catie rode the train to Penn Station dressed as Harry Potter. Sick, scared and living in a strange place, Catie took comfort in J.K. Rowling's best-selling stories of good triumphing over evil.

She and her mom stayed at a Ronald McDonald House for 18 months, returning home for a visit every six weeks or so. They read all the Harry Potter books, one after the other.

They were nearing the end of the third book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," when doctors said Catie was losing her fight with cancer.

Catie had a wish. She wanted to have her mother read her book four, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." But Rowling was still writing it and the book wasn't due out for many months. Catie did not have that long.

A friend of a friend sent an e-mail to Rowling's publisher in England.

A short while later, an e-mail arrived.

"Dear Catie. I am working very hard on book four at the moment ... on a bit that involves some new creatures Hagrid has brought along for the care of Magical Creatures classes. You are an extremely brave person and a true Gryffindor. With lots of love, J.K. Rowling (Jo to anybody in Gryffindor)."

Rowling sent Catie a plush stuffed owl named Pigwidgeon (a character in her book) for Valentine's Day along with a card. Two weeks after Valentine's Day, Rowling wrote again.

Catie dictated her replies to her mom, who typed them into their home computer and sent them to the author by e-mail. Mostly, Catie talked about the intricacies of the Harry Potter plot, her family and friends. And Rowling replied.

"I love you even more for telling me to make book four long, because I am worried about how long it's getting. You've cheered me up a lot. Lots of love. Your friend right back. Jo XXX"

Catie defied doctors' predictions and made it through her March birthday. She received a card and presents from Rowling, a plush cat and a dream decoder book.

Spring arrived, and Catie lapsed into a coma. When she awoke, she asked her mom to invite several of her girlfriends. Catie gave her American Girl dolls to her friends.

The end was near. Catie's mom relayed this information to Rowling in an e-mail.

A phone call came to the Hochs' Clifton Park home from Edinburgh, Scotland, on a Sunday afternoon. It was Rowling. She wanted to read parts of book four to Catie.

"We laid Catie down on the living room couch, and Jo read to her over the phone. Catie's face just lit up," her mom recalled.

Rowling called three or four more times to read to her, but Catie started failing so badly she couldn't receive any more calls.

Catie died May 18, 2000. She was 9.

Three days later, Rowling wrote a message of condolence.

"Dear Gina and Larry. I have been away again. I've only just received your message. I have been praying that Catie would be released, that she would go where she can wait happily and painlessly for the rest of us to join her. But there are no words to express how sorry I am.

"I consider myself privileged to have had contact with Catie. I can only aspire to being the sort of parent both of you have been to Catie during her illness. I am crying so hard as I type. She left footprints on my heart all right. With much love, Jo"

Rowling continued to write to Catie's family in the ensuing weeks and shared in their feelings of grief and loss.

"I look back at Catie's e-mails to me and happiness shines out of each and every one. Please don't thank me for anything I did, because I feel truly honoured to have known your daughter, however briefly. Jo XXX"

Catie's parents ... Gina Peca, a homemaker, and Larry Hoch, a tax lawyer for General Electric Co. ... established a nonprofit public charity in Catie's memory.

The Catie Hoch Foundation raised $120,000 in two years and made gifts to Sloan-Kettering and to Ronald McDonald houses in New York, Boston and Albany to help children with neuroblastoma, the third most common form of pediatric cancer.

The foundation recently received a surprise, unsolicited donation of $100,000 from Scotland. It game from J.K. Rowling. And Catie's mother told her story.

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Copyright (c) 2002, The Associated Press