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Alli SearsSunday (Jan. 29) was bittersweet for the Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline who filled Sheridan Funeral Home in Kents Store to pay respects to the family of their sister brownie Allianna Sears of Troop 1484. One week earlier, sudden illness had claimed her life.

At the celebration of life party held after the funeral services, many of Alli’s friends, family, and a flood of sister Girl Scouts came to show their love and support and to share great stories. There was dancing, singing, and an astonishing amount of food donated from people throughout Fluvanna – even some who’d never met Alli, said her mom, Alicia Martinez.

“I know some people felt that the party wasn’t right for an 8 year old,” Martinez said. “They thought it was wrong, but Alli loved balloons and she would have loved it.”

Martinez spoke about Alli’s sudden illness. “When she woke up that morning she was a little lethargic watching cartoons,” said Martinez. “She got her clothes on and [Girl Scout] vest on and brushed her hair. When we got out of the driveway, she said her throat felt funny.”

Alli, 8, and her older sister Gavianna were going to help their mom, who is their troop leader, set up a cookie sales booth at Walmart in Zion Crossroads. “She didn’t really help. She was sitting on a bench and said, ‘I’m cold,’” Martinez said.

Alli’s mom bundled her up in a coat and an adult-sized sweater, though she was already in a long-sleeved shirt and vest. When Alli said she wanted to go home, Martinez took her back to their home in Troy where her grandparents and father, Kenneth Sears, would watch over her.

Martinez resumed sales with her oldest daughter, Gavi, and the girls who operated the cookie booth. “My mom said she was up and talking till 12:30 p.m. when my husband got home,” Martinez said. “I was told, ‘She’s feeling a little sick but she’s asleep now.’”

Later Martinez walked into the house to two kids snoring – Alli and her little brother, Hector, cuddled together on the couch. A birthday party with best friends was the next event on their list and, because Alli looked like she needed the rest, Martinez decided to take Gavi only and return home.

Alli stayed asleep on the couch. “She never woke up,” Martinez said. “She was completely unresponsive. She had four adults patting her on the back, yelling for her, moving her. We called 911. The guy was like, ‘We don’t know when you’re going to get an ambulance.’ My husband called 911 again and we got disconnected so the sheriff called me. He said, ‘We don’t know when the ambulance is going to get there.’”

Alli’s parents had no time to wait and they were panicked, trying to decide whether to drive to meet an ambulance or take their daughter to a hospital themselves. Then their daughter’s condition pulled them back to the urgency of her plight. Alli was making disturbing sounds. “My husband said, ‘If we wait she’s going to drown. Get her in the car. Now,’” Martinez said.

“By the time we get to Martha Jefferson, she stops breathing,” Martinez recalled. “I’m trained in CPR, and I’m in the back seat, and I forget everything. I can’t even figure out how to place my hands on her chest to do CPR.”

At Martha Jefferson, Alli was placed in Girl Scout sister hands, according to her mother. It was the one comforting theme which continued into the next day.

“The two nurses who were taking care of her had daughters in Girl Scouts,” Martinez said. “And then the first nurse she encountered in the [University of Virginia Children’s Hospital] pediatric intensive care unit after the transfer was a Girl Scout parent from Louisa.”

Alli’s small form underwent CPR five times either because she stopped breathing or her heart stopped. Her parents were completely unprepared when a doctor asked the inevitable question, “Would you like to donate her organs tonight?”

Martinez said she was never angrier at a question in her life. “I was livid at that doctor. I was offended. I thought, ‘Give her a couple hours, she’s rebooting,’” she said.  Only days earlier Alli had celebrated turning 8 years old. She was having fun with friends, enjoying her family, and loving the presents Martinez said are still on the living room floor.

“There are so many things she started and has to finish...like a puzzle that’s on the table. I put it together. She has to finish coloring it in,” said Martinez who, with her husband, couldn’t fathom how any of it was happening while their daughter was put on life support. “Outside her room were all the cardiac machines. I thought, ‘Why? Why? My child’s going to be okay. She doesn’t need those.’” But then her daughter was declared brain dead.

No one knows for sure what happened to Alli that day, Martinez said. The investigation into her death is still ongoing.

Now Martinez is planning a memorial garden to surround an evergreen tree Alli planted in their yard as part of a “take action” project for the Girl Scouts. “We went to Culpeper for that [Daisy] journey and I remember the lady telling all the girls that planting a tree…leaves a forever mark,” she said.

Martinez hopes Alli’s friends in the community will donate something to put in the garden her daughter started. “They can bring a plant, a pack of seeds or bulbs, so we can have an everlasting memorial at our house,” she said.

Quiet is the enemy for Martinez, who struggles to keep heartbreaking memories of her daughter’s last days from swallowing her whole. It helps to hear others’ stories instead, she said.

“My husband and I are loving the stories. There is so much she did that we weren’t aware of. Without realizing it, she was a really good friend to a lot of people,” she said.
One mom shared with Alli’s parents about when her own little girl came home from the first day of school, saying, “Alli this, Alli that. If it weren’t for Alli, I don’t think she’d have gone back the second day!”

Another parent told Martinez, “My child says she sees her every day at lunch by the water fountain and she gets a hug from her every day.” Martinez said she and Sears smiled when they heard the story because they knew how much Alli loved to hug.

Martinez recalled a moment when she and her daughter stopped to pick up her check from her employer. “[Alli] saw this boy from school she said was kind of a bully and I asked, ‘Why did you say hi to him if he isn’t nice?’ She looked at me and said, ‘We’ve just got to give him time.’”

It makes her wonder what would have happened if her daughter had more time. It makes her imagine the seeds of love she would have sewn well past 2017. “There was no way we could keep her,” she said sadly.

The Sears family is welcoming donations of plants, bulbs, or flowers of any kind to complete Alli’s garden. Donations should be brought to 138 Country Lane, Troy 22974.
A campaign to offset the cost of unexpected medical and funeral expenses was started by a family friend. To help, visit https://www.gofundme.com/Searss-funeral-and-medical-fund.