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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Paige Mason now has every state and 23 countries in the palm of her fragile hands.
The 3-year-old Evansville girl's only wish for her birthday this year was for a stack of birthday cards. Almost 8,000 of them later, the world answered in a way her family never imagined.
Paige has a rare form of osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as brittle bone disease. After spending her last two birthdays with broken bones, her family wanted to find a way for her to have a safe, enjoyable celebration this year.
"Did you have a good birthday or a great birthday?" Paige's mother, Stacy, asked her as she sifted through the stacks of cards on her living room floor.
"I had a great birthday," Paige said, excitedly showing off another card.
The family didn't expect the response to grow to the magnitude that it did. What started off as a couple of dozen cards quickly grew into thousands.
"I would have been overwhelmed with just 500 cards," her father Chris said. "This was above and beyond what we expected. This is just unbelievable."
Paige's mother Stacy posted a photo on Facebook in March of Paige holding a sign asking for birthday cards. The photo was shared more than 700 times, and now her living room is overflowing with thousands of cards.
Among those thousands of cards, contributors included the New England Patriots football team, schools, nursing homes and law enforcement officials.
"We heard that one of our biggest fans is celebrating a special birthday," the Patriots wrote. "On behalf of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, a very happy 3rd birthday from all of us."
Paige, a loyal Disney "Frozen" fan, even heard from Anna and Elsa — with signed photos and cards from Disney World. Those cards were some of the biggest surprises, Stacy said.
She also received cards from the New Castle and Rockville Correctional Facilities in Indiana, with individually signed cards from prisoners.
"One of the cards was a Christmas card, and it said 'I'm sorry this is a Christmas card, but it's all that I have to send you,'" Stacy said. "I was stunned."
Paige received plenty of signed cards from local businesses and officials, including Mayor Lloyd Winnecke.
The outpouring of support from strangers has been overwhelming, but also inspiring, for the Mason family.
A card and stuffed animal from a state trooper in Missouri was one delivery that brought Stacy to tears.
"I saw your post on Facebook today, and I was touched by your courage," wrote L.A. Wilson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. "Troopers stand up to protect those who need protection. I have sent you a Trooper bear to help you be brave and strong when you are scared. Please give him a good home."
The University of Southern Indiana also rallied to help grant Paige's wish. Sports teams, sororities and other groups sent her cards, jerseys and drawings.
Kelsey Smith, a soccer player at USI, read about Paige's wish in the Courier & Press and encouraged her teammates — along with the rest of the athletic department — to send her cards.
"I think as athletes, sometimes we take what we do every day for granted," Smith said. "When I heard about Paige's story, it put things into perspective for me. I realized just how lucky we are to be able to play the sports that we do without worrying about the smallest things that could hurt us."
In addition to cards, Paige has also received stickers, stuffed animals and coloring books — something the Mason family also didn't expect.
"The generosity of strangers has been incredible throughout this entire journey," Stacy said.
Stacy also has osteogenesis imperfecta, and another goal she had with collecting birthday cards for Paige was raising awareness for the disease. She said she has heard from quite a few other people who also have brittle bone disease.
"Every single one of these cards represents a person who now knows about (osteogenesis imperfecta)," Stacy said, gesturing toward the totes of cards in her home. "I've always said this, and I always will, but awareness does matter. And the awareness has spread to almost 8,000 other people."
The family has opened about 7,700 cards so far, but emphasized that words will never be enough to thank the strangers who sent encouragement to Paige.
"We would like to send thank you cards to every single person, but that's kind of impossible. I've been saying it over and over again and posting on Facebook, but I still don't feel like that's enough," Stacy said. "So from the bottom of our hearts, we want to say thank you to every single person that has sent something our way."
Paige also had another wish granted for her third birthday. She didn't have any broken bones on April 5 and was able to enjoy her day — opening cards from all over the world.
And as Paige gets older, her parents are looking forward to sharing the significance of this act generosity.
"It will be nice to tell her, and show her, how special she is, and how even complete strangers from all over the world love her too," Stacy said.
Source: Evansville Courier & Press, http://bit.ly/1Slhtvv
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the Evansville Courier & Press.