January 29, 2016 3:02 pm
Updated: January 29, 2016 8:37 pm

Carmen’s gift: Young girl’s death inspires acts of kindness across the world

WATCH: A Nova Scotia family decided to deal with the pain of losing their 5-year-old daughter by asking their small town to "pay it forward." As Ross Lord reports, the kind acts have caught on.


Carmen Huskilson wasn’t supposed to speak, yet she talked herself to sleep every night.

It was unlikely she would ever walk, yet she learned to love running and skating.

Her father, Andrew, considers Carmen his hero.

“It’s the way she lived life. She’d be swimming around in the pool, hooked up to oxygen, trying to play with the rest of the kids. She never let it hold her back,” he told Global News.

Carmen is pictured here swimming with her father, Andrew.


Known to doctors as a “miracle child,” five-year-old Carmen was born with a rare birth defect – a diaphragmatic hernia.

“Her lungs and organs in her chest cavity didn’t grow properly,” her mother, Jennie said.  “They didn’t have a proper chance to develop.  So, because of that, her immune system was compromised,  it caused a lot of health issues for her.”

The little girl, who loved dressing up and playing with make-up, persevered through more than 40 ambulance trips and several corrective surgeries.

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Community comes together in support

Carmen started school last fall, awaiting a final surgery that would have fixed her condition. While she was waiting, though, pneumonia struck and took Carmen’s young life two weeks ago.

Her father, a fifth-generation funeral director in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, searched his soul for something positive after she died.

“I made a little desk up by Carmen’s casket, and I was just, it just came out. I had so many people messaging me, calling, ‘What can we do, what can we do?’ So I said, ‘Just go do something nice for somebody else. Just pay it forward,'” he said.

His suggestion gave rise to a Facebook group and an outpouring of small-town generosity, mostly small acts of kindness among neighbours.

“[A neighbour] came over and plowed my driveway on a Sunday morning, so that’s nice,” said Nancy Wamback, one of many residents in Shelburne who knows the Huskilson family well.

Soon, children were baking cookies, others were paying it forward with flowers.

The acts of kindnes are far reaching, with women as far as Hawaii handing out food to the homeless, all in the name of Carmen Huskilson.

Carmen is seen here with her younger brother, Ryan, who is now three years old.


The Facebook group now has more than 8,000 members, and include folks from small towns in Nova Scotia to Louise Davis, paying it forward all the way in her adopted home of Prague.

“I think it’s such a great idea and we definitely need this sort of thing in the world right now. Everything is so negative,” Davis said in a Skype interview.

Financial donations pouring in

Carmen’s parents say they would love to raise enough to attract another doctor to the Roseway Hospital in Shelburne, which – like many in rural Nova Scotia – has had to close its Emergency Room at times because of staff shortages.

But the Huskilsons’ say their biggest priority is kindness.

“Makes me feel proud, as a mom,” said Jennie, pausing, as tears begin to flow.

“It just warms your heart, to know that it’s done in my little girl’s name. It’s wonderful,” Andrew said, choking back tears.


Carmen Huskilson is pictured here.



Despite making his living by comforting others, Andrew admits he never really understood grief until now.

“Reality’s gotta come at some point and I don’t know if it’s quite there yet,” he said.

Fronting this heart-warming campaign in the name of their deceased daughter is a mixed blessing. They are honoured Carmen has been a catalyst for positive action, even though she’s gone, but say they haven’t had time to process their own grief.

“There’s a grieving process that we don’t know how it works,” Jennie said.

“We’re doing as much as we can, and hopefully everyone can kind of take over for us in the near future.”

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