In Alabama, when neighbors found out that 7-year-old Ally Cheek’s health was declining and she might not live through the holidays, they decided to start Christmas early in Vestavia Hills.
Ally’s neighborhood banded together in early November to light up their homes so Ally and her family could celebrate Christmas together one last time.
Ally has a rare genetic mutation, called HECW2, which creates special developmental needs that have been getting progressively worse. The case is so rare there are only about 50 diagnosed patients in the world. One of those patients was her twin sister, Bailey Grace, who passed away last year.
Morgan Cheek, the girls’ mother, said the Christmas lights have been a source of literal light in a dark time.
“For me, in seven and a half years of twins with medically fragile needs, and burying my first child, and then starting hospice with my second daughter shortly after … I think having that reminder from so many people that the light does always shine in the darkness has just been such a beautiful reminder for us as a family,” Cheek said in a CNN report.
Morgan said the flurry of early decorating came about after she told a neighbor that Ally was continuing to decline but wanted to see the Christmas lights one more time.
“I think we’re actually going to put up our Christmas lights this week, so don’t judge us if you see our lights up,” Morgan said.
After an hour, the neighbor came back to say that several more families on their street also wanted to put up lights early. Others in their close-knit community started asking if they could put up lights too, and soon the entire neighborhood was filled with Christmas joy in November — with many houses putting Ally’s name in lights.
After photos of the bright neighborhood and the hashtag #lightingtheloopforally went viral, other neighborhoods across the US chimed in with their own early Christmas cheer in honor of the Cheek family.
“The next thing I know, I’ve got Christmas wreaths coming in from Italy and Spain and Peru and Switzerland,” Morgan said, adding that families of all faiths have shown them support by decorating.
The Christmas spirit also made it to actress Kristen Bell (she portrayed Princess Anna in “Frozen,” one of Ally’s favorite musical movies) who lit up her tree with a heart for Ally.
“I am thinking of you and hoping that you are cozy and happy and in your parents’ arms,” Bell said in a video message to the 7-year-old girl. Morgan said Ally recognized Bell’s voice from the songs in the movie.
One kind neighbor lent the Cheek family their golf cart, so they can ride around her street to see all the lights even as her condition weakens.
“For some reason, music and lights are two things that she continues to be able to enjoy. We have been able to wrap Ally up in like a billion blankets, and get (her brother) in the back and just ride around and listen to Christmas music while Ally gets to see the lights,” Morgan said.
Because of Ally’s rare genetic condition, she and her sister were never able to walk or speak. Despite suffering from the seizures and food digestion issues that come with the terminal variant of HECW2, Morgan said she is able to interact through waves and hugs, and she can speak with her eyes.
Ally also has a gift for spreading joy with her singing — and seeing the early Christmas cheer has prompted her to sing loud for all to hear.
“It’s not the most in-tune singing ever, so you can hear it probably from your house,” Cheek said. “I think it’s such a sweet gift for the people who have chosen to put up their lights because you know when Ally is coming by.”