Canfield crowds Choose Joy

Death of 4-year-old spurs benefit to find cure for brainstem disease

CANFIELD — If you mix precociousness, raw determination, compassion, competitiveness and more than a touch of energy and athletic prowess, you would have the essence of 4-year-old Melina Michelle Edenfield, a family member contends.

“When she was age 2, her older sisters were swimming. She wanted to take her floaties off, so she jumped in the pool and swam to her dad with no swimming lessons,” Ken Popovec, Melina’s grandfather, remembered.

That was one of several memories the Canfield man shared about his granddaughter, who died June 24, 2020, of an incurable pediatric brain tumor called a diffuse midline gliomas. She was 4.

Melina also was lovingly remembered and honored during the Choose Joy for Melina gathering Saturday on the Canfield Green.

Proceeds from the five-hour event will benefit the Melina Michelle Edenfield Foundation, set up to increase awareness of, and raise money to find a cure for, DMG tumors.

Such fast growing cancerous tumors typically affect the brainstem, which controls breathing, heart rate, swallowing and other vital functions, but occasionally can be found on the spinal cord, as well as in adults. They are highly aggressive and tend to spread rapidly to invade neighboring tissue, according to the University of California at San Francisco Brain Tumor Center.

The high-grade tumors also are inoperable. In addition, DMG research receives little funding, and the standard of care for these malignant tumors has remained the same for at least the past 50 years, according to the foundation.

During her illness, Melina asked family members and loved ones to “choose joy” instead of sadness, because she was so joyful and seemed more concerned about others’ feelings than her own plight, Popovec explained.

When she was 3, Melina — who had never suffered any type of sickness — taught herself to ride a bicycle with no training wheels. Fueling Melina’s determination was seeing older sisters Emilea, 7, and Klara, 9, riding their bicycles without the devices, Popovec recalled.

One day in May 2020, Melina spent about six hours in her grandfather’s swimming pool with nine other children, but the following day, she began throwing up as she awoke and continued feeling ill for close to a week. She also complained of a persistent headache before being taken to the emergency room, where a brain scan revealed the tumor after she had been admitted to Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron.

After losing her ability to walk and talk, Melina was fitted for a radiation mask and given six months at best to live. She also received hospice care at Popovec’s home, he said, fighting back tears.

“It slowly physically took her away,” though the happiness she showed left an indelible mark on everyone it touched, Popovec added.

The foundation has raised more than $300,000 in the past year, about half of which will go to Akron Children’s Hospital to begin a research foundation in Melina’s name and joined with a national collaborative of other organizations to fund clinical trials related to DMG, he noted.

Melina also was a “competitive little spitfire,” someone who was content and never boastful about her latest achievements, her mother, Michelle Edenfield, remembered.

The girl’s mother and father, Keith Edenfield, said they were extremely grateful to see the community support at the event for their beloved daughter.

“We will be forever thankful to this community and the Mahoning Valley in particular,” Michelle said.

Also at the Choose Joy gathering, several children wore leopard-colored clothing to recognize and honor Melina’s love for the animal.

Items sold included bracelets bearing Melina’s name, along with T-shirts, hair ties, earringsand school supplies to benefit the foundation.

“It’s being wiped out, and that’s a good thing,” Renee Popovec, Melina’s grandmother, said about the brisk volume of sales.

Despite the tragic loss of such a young girl, her impact on others will live on, Ken Popovec said.

“We believe Melina died to make us better,” he added.

To make a donation, visit www.mmefoundationjoy.org



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