New York — If Matthew Musto needed to remember an errand, he would tell his 5-year-old daughter Madeline — 'Maddie' — because she had a "memory like an elephant" and would make sure he didn't forget.
The little girl, who her parents Friday described as fiercely independent and always smiling, also made sure that her two younger sisters, Amelia, 4, and 31/2 year-old Lucy, behaved themselves.
And Maddie became affectionately known as her mother's "rule-abiding citizen" for encouraging Erin Musto, 29, to be on the lookout for deer and obey traffic laws while driving.
"Her whole purpose was to care about and make sure everybody was OK," said Matthew Musto, 30, Friday as he painfully recounted his daughter's short life. Erin Musto said that her daughter's New Year's resolution was to walk the family dog, Sparky, a black miniature dachshund, more often.
Just before 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, Madeline Musto died of a rare inoperable tumor on her brain stem at Albany Medical Center Hospital with family members by her side.
She was in kindergarten at Bradt Elementary School in Rotterdam where the family lives. On Sunday, Maddie received her First Communion at St. Augustine's Catholic Church in Troy.
The Musto girls were so tight they slept in the same bed even though they each had their own, recalled Matthew Musto, a project manager for a non profit organization.
Besides hanging out with her sisters, Maddie was a huge fan of the Disney Channel television sitcom, "Good Luck Charlie," and enjoyed arts and crafts, and drawing, said her mother.
It was only after Maddie was diagnosed Feb. 3 with the tumor that the family connected the earlier dizzying spells and other seemingly innocuous symptoms to the terminal illness. Doctors at Albany Med gave her weeks, maybe months, to live. The family was suppose to fly to Disney World in Florida Friday on a Make a Wish Foundation trip.
When word of Maddie's condition spread, the family received a wellspring of support, including the use of a lodge at Lake Placid last weekend where dozens of Madeline's loved ones rallied around her, said Matthew Musto. Once they returned to Rotterdam, her condition worsened and traveling back and forth to the hospital only made matters worse so the oncologist came to them.
Tuesday, Maddie's father held on to her all night on the couch and watched helplessly as her breathing became more labored. At one point he asked her how she was doing.
She responded: "I can't do the things I want to do."
Those were her last words to him.
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