LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Amzie Smith, the Ballard High School junior who inspired thousands with her message of faith during her battle with terminal cancer, died on Friday afternoon.
The 17-year-old was diagnosed with stage 4 adult liver cancer in November 2015 -- a kind of cancer rarely found in adults and nearly unheard of in children.
According to an online post from Tad Douglas, Amzie's stepfather, Amzie "passed away peacefully" Friday afternoon holding hands with her family members, "as she went to be with the Lord."
"She is home now," Douglas wrote.
Her father, Dan Smith, had told WDRB News earlier this week that she was moved to hospice after spending two days in the hospital before Christmas.
"They sent her home from the hospital, but she was very adamant in telling us that she was ready to go and that she wanted to meet Jesus," he said.
News of Amzie's death drew statements of sorrow and condolences from a number of leaders throughout the city, including Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
"I'll forever remember Amzie for the eloquent, faith-filled prayer she delivered at our annual Thanksgiving breakfast in November," Mayor Fischer said in a written statement. "As we grieve with her family and friends today, I think we honor this brave young lady best by doing as she asked -- working to make Louisville an even more unified community of peace and compassion."
Staci Eddleman, principal of Ballard High School, issued a statement Friday afternoon, calling Amzie "an inspiration to all of us."
"Even though we knew this day would come, it is still extremely painful," Eddleman wrote. "We will pull together as a school community to support our students and all those she touched. Our hearts are with her family."
Chris Morgan, head of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes at the University of Louisville, as well as the director for player development for U of L's football program, also expressed his condolences.
"Having met Amzie and her family for the first time last year, it was a privilege and an honor to meet someone so strong," Morgan said in a written statement. "Her fight and will is something that was an inspiration to me, and I know Lamar Jackson was also moved when he met her the first time. Amzie was such a huge Cardinal fan and will be in our prayers. Our condolences go out to her family during this difficult time."
Steve Tarver, President and CEO of the Greater Louisville YMCA, called Amzie an "unselfish, servant leader" and "an example that should inspire us all."
"Through her own fight, that others would not even likely notice if they didn't know her situation, she remained fiercely committed to serving others, character and faith," Tarver wrote. "It was demonstrated by her achievements, actions, and a tangible warm and caring demeanor."
In particular, Tarver recalled meeting her at the annual YMCA Mayor's Thanksgiving Breakfast on Nov. 22, 2016, and hearing her pray for the city of Louisville in front of 700 people.
"At the Mayor's breakfast, I asked Amzie to get me a copy of her prayer," Tarver wrote. "All I really wanted was a Xerox copy or a scribbled copy of the text of her prayer. Little did I know that she would actually duplicate (with art work) her original notes and mail it to me just before Christmas. And that she would write me one of the nicest notes ever about her experience with the YMCA."
That prayer and Amzie's note are reproduced below, with Tarver's permission:
Amzie had posted a picture on Instagram on Dec. 26 of herself and with her family visiting Santa and included a note saying she had received bad news earlier in the week and that she was spending a lot of time sleeping.
"Other than sleeping a lot, I'm becoming more ill and unable to do simple things like brush my teeth without having to use my wheelchair," she wrote, adding that she was struggling with her health and her faith. "Regardless of what I've said above, it's God’s will that will be done and that could still include a miracle."
A lifelong Christian and member of Southeast Christian Church, Amzie spoke publicly about how her diagnosis strengthened her relationship with God. Her story of inspiration and faith has gone viral, reaching thousands of people.
"God has a purpose for everyone and his purpose for me is having this disease," she told WDRB in an October 2016 interview. "He has given me the strength to push through this, take this new perspective I have on life and show people that there is another way to live. No matter what you are going through in life, you have to let go of the small things."
She added: "Happiness is a choice and every day you get decide what you are going to live for."
Pastor Dave Stone, of Southeast Christian Church, issued the following statement:
"On January 6th Amzie Smith ended her lengthy battle with cancer. We claim the same promise to which Amzie and every other Christian clings: 'to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.' Amzie was a positive example to so many here at Southeast Christian, Ballard High School and throughout our community. Amzie repeatedly expressed that when her time came that she didn't want people to be sad, instead she hoped her passing would motivate people to be happy and live life well. We are grateful for Amzie's joyful and adventurous spirit. She lived this life with the next in mind. Our prayers go out to the family."
In August, all treatments for her cancer had stopped and Amzie set one one goal -- make it to her 17th birthday, which was Oct. 15.
Two weeks later, she was named one of 14 students honored with the Greater Louisville YMCA's Youth Character Award.
Amzie had continued to worship and participate in her youth ministry group. Last summer, she made a video testimony that was used as part of Southeast's high school ministry sermon.
Throughout her diagnosis, Amzie continued to walk the hallways of Ballard, going to class nearly every day and maintained a 4.1 GPA. Her classmates organized a "Go Green for Amzie" campaign, with hundreds of students wearing green -- the color used to designate liver cancer awareness.
Her classmates also voted her sophomore Homecoming Queen in 2015 and junior Homecoming Princess last year.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Amzie's dad set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for some things she wanted to do before she died.
She went to Disney World and Universal Studios and took a cruise to the Bahamas and Key West. She also enjoyed a hot air balloon ride and went to Orlando for her open water dives to complete her scuba diving certification. She took a two week trip to Switzerland and Italy with her classmates from Ballard and spend a week in Belize, compliments of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
A huge University of Louisville fan, Amzie was been able to meet members of the basketball team and Oct. 14, she crossed one final item off her bucket list when she was able to meet U of L quarterback Lamar Jackson and participated in the Cardinal Walk before the football game against Duke University.
In her interview with WDRB, Amzie said she was not scared of death.
"I am not scared to die -- everyone is dying," she said. "For me, I know where I am going and I am excited."
Amzie is survived by her mom Kathy Douglas and stepdad Tad Douglas, her father Dan Smith and stepmom Jennifer Mangeot Smith and her younger sister, Kyndal.
Visitation and funeral information was released Saturday for Amzie. Click here to view her obituary.
"I don’t want people to be upset or sad," Amzie Smith said in her October interview. "I want people to celebrate all of the things I have done. I want people to look back and say that she had something special, she made a difference, she was kind. I want that to continue to long after I am gone."
Jackson tweeted a message to Amzie on Friday night:
Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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