STANDISH – Patty Hildreth has always been a fighter. Growing up in Roxbury, Mass., gave her no other choice.

Hildreth, a Standish resident, didn’t always have it easy; there were times she lived in her car and on the streets. She fought hardships and moved to Standish in the 1990s, raising three successful children. Just when it seemed she would have a moment to rest and enjoy her grandson, she entered into her greatest battle: a fight for her life.

In 2005, Hildreth was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis. Known more commonly as Langerhans, it is a rare disease that occurs when the body accumulates too many immature Langerhans cells, a type of white blood cell that normally helps the body fight infection. The cells build up in certain parts of the body where they can form tumors or damage organs. The disease is so rare that Hildreth was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“That was awful,” said Donald Hildreth, Patty’s son. “The medicine they gave her for M.S. actually worsened her Langerhans and littered her brain with Langerhans lesions. It was definitely a step back for us.”

According to Hildreth, doctors in Maine had never seen Langerhans so they sent her to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, which was a blessing and a burden.

“Her insurance would not pay for treatment out of state,” said Donald Hildreth. “We finally knew what was wrong with her and we were faced with the knowledge that we might not be able to pay for her treatment.”

The doctors discovered Hildreth’s body was riddled with tumors and started a variety of treatments to shrink her lesions. The treatments were painstaking, expensive and didn’t seem to help. What her children didn’t know was that Hildreth was keeping a medical secret from the family; doctors said with this disease she might only live six more years.

“She didn’t want my sisters and I walking around on egg shells waiting for her to die,” said Donald Hildreth. “She didn’t want us wondering if every time she got sick it would be her last fight. My mother is a selfless person and she wanted us to be happy.”

Now that Hildreth has passed the six-year mark, there is a treatment available to her that would increase her life significantly and put her in remission. The problem is, the only proven treatment is a procedure done in Canada or Sweden and it is not covered by insurance. The procedure costs close to $25,000.

“The treatment won’t cure her completely,” said Donald Hildreth, “But it will slow down the disease drastically and improve her lung function. She only has a 12 percent lung function right now, she should have been on oxygen five years ago, but she’s a fighter and she needs treatment now.”

For the past year Donald Hildreth, his sisters and countless friends and relatives have been raising money for the surgery through donations, pancake breakfasts, car washes, raffles and anything else they can think of, much to the chagrin of Hildreth.

“As much as we’re fighting the disease, we are fighting Patty’s pride,” said Donald Hildreth. “She’s as self-sufficient as a person can be and definitely isn’t comfortable with the attention, but she knows it means a lot to Amy, Diana and me, so she goes with it.”

Several neighbors, friends and co-workers recently helped out at the Viva La Patty Pancake Breakfast that raised more than $1,000 for the Viva La Patty fund. People who attended were happy to donate above and beyond the pancake money. One person even donated $500 just to see Hildreth’s son-in-law in a dress.

“We try to do fundraisers people can relate to and have fun at,” said Donald Hildreth. “I think some people came to the breakfast just to see Jake serve coffee in a dress.”

Hildreth’s friend Brenna Martin thinks there is more to it than that.

“If it was my mom that was sick, I would want and hope people would help,” said Martin, who has been active in Viva La Patty fundraisers. “I have known Donald for a few years and when I saw that his mom was sick I wanted to help them.”

Through fundraisers, bracelet sales, donations and contests, the Hildreths have been able to raise half of what they need and are hoping to raise the rest by July.

The next Viva La Patty fundraiser, a Bowl-a-thon will be held Friday, March 9, at Bayside Bowling in Portland.

“You’re not just helping to save a mother, a grandmother, a friend,” said Donald Hildreth. “You’re saving one of the last truly selfless, amazing, bad-ass human beings on the planet.”

For more information on Patty Hildreth or to donate to the Viva La Patty fund to provide needed surgery for Hildreth, visit

Patty Hildreth of Standish holds her grandson Landon. Hildreth suffers from a rare disease and requires surgery not covered by insurance. (Courtesy photo)

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