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Colorado student, artist sends dolls to kids with cancer

Heidi Andringa wanted to give children fighting cancer a doll that, to her, is more than just an ordinary toy: "They're kind of a friend when you need one."

BOULDER, Colo. — School is out for most folks in college, but it’s not break time just yet for one student in Boulder. Heidi Andringa spends her free time working to help children she calls heroes.

Andringa, a University of Colorado Boulder student, founded her nonprofit Heidelore’s Heroes when she was 13. The nonprofit sends care packages to children with cancer. If not for discovering a love of art, she said she might never have created the organization at all.

“I realized that I kind of had the opportunity to do something special with [art] beyond just learning a new skill,” she said.

Credit: Heidi Andringa

Andringa decided to sell her work and use the money to fund care packages. She made the centerpiece of those care packages a doll – an American Girl doll, to be precise.

“I loved American Girl dolls when I was little," she said. "They were my absolute favorite in the world because they’re more than just an ordinary toy. They’re kind of a friend when you need one.”

Andringa said she knows her gifts might seem inconsequential in the face of a life-altering illness, but she believes the dolls represent someone who cares. She's seen how they can make a dark time just a little bit brighter.

“It’s such an alienating disease," she said. "These kids are taken out of school, they don’t get to see their friends. So it’s just a toy, but it also kind of represents more than that.”

Credit: Heidi Andringa

Kids battling cancer face numerous barriers, including funding and research. The National Cancer Institute’s most recent statistics from 2018 show that childhood cancer received less than 4% of $9 billion in research funding. Andringa said this lack of funding is frustrating for many families struggling with all that childhood cancer entails.

Andringa said she wants to see funding more equally dispersed among different types of cancers. She also hopes that one day her nonprofit will grow enough that she can contribute money toward research, along with her gifts.

Until that day comes, she finds happiness in seeing the joy her gifts bring.

On her phone, Andringa has dozens of photos and videos of kids and their families opening the packages she sent. While looking through them all, her smile is just as big as the kids'.

Credit: Heidi Andringa

Andringa said she has delivered more than 350 care packages.

Most of her deliveries are done through the mail because many of the recipients live out of state. She has hand-delivered only about 10 to 15 care packages herself.

This month, 9NEWS joined Andringa for one of those rare in-person deliveries, to two sisters in Denver, Kaziyah (or Zuzu), and Ny’Laela.

Doctors diagnosed Zuzu with high-risk neuroblastoma in 2020. Andringa said the girl’s mom reached out to her after she posted a poll on Instagram, asking whether any families with kids battling cancer could use some Christmas gifts.

Andringa said she makes sure to bring gifts for the child battling cancer and their siblings.

“[The siblings] are kind of like forgotten warriors of childhood cancer," she said. "They fight their own fight.”

Nothing brings Andringa as much joy as giving gifts to these warriors. She knows that whatever troubles they face, they’ll always have a friend.

“It makes you feel better than anything else in the entire world knowing that you got to help and that you played a role in making a really hard situation a little bit easier," she said. "It’s just, it’s the best thing ever.”

Credit: Heidi Andringa
Artwork drawn by Heidi Andringa.

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