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Avi’s Flight Foundation takes off in memory of local lupus fighter

LAPLACE — Krischell Cannon-Thomas never left her daughter’s side as she battled lupus for two full years at University Hospital.

Avionne Thomas passed away at the age of 24 on Sept. 5, 2020, just two days after she was discharged from the hospital and welcomed home to Edgard with a joyous community parade. Avionne’s physical presence may be gone, but her mother is determined to keep her spirit alive through the Avi’s Flight Foundation, which seeks to lend support to families facing prolonged hospital stays.

The Avi’s Flight Foundation will launch with a Fundraiser and Lupus Awareness Event from noon to 5 p.m. May 2 at the Choice International Multi-Purpose Complex, located at 1005 Cambridge Drive in LaPlace. Community members are invited to come hear the stories of lupus victims and raise money for the foundation. Vendor opportunities are available on-site with a $100 donation.

“Avi’s Flight Foundation is not just going to be sending money for lupus research. We want to be hands-on with the people in communities throughout the state of Louisiana,” Cannon-Thomas said. “I want to provide them a meal ticket where they can go to the cafeteria and get a voucher. I want to give them a hygiene package. I stayed at the hospital for two years, so I know what it’s like to be with your loved one. It takes money and resources.”

Kita Harry and Madeline Jasmine are also involved in coordinating the fundraiser and lupus awareness event. The name Avi’s Flight Foundation is inspired by the symbol of a purple butterfly that is used to unite lupus victims.

Avionne was diagnosed with lupus in November 2014, while she was a freshman at Dillard University. However, the first symptoms of the disease arose when she struggled to physically perform on the volleyball team during her senior year of high school at West St. John.

When starting the summer program at Dillard in summer 2014, Avionne struggled with dizziness, vomiting spells, high fever and swelling in her wrists and ankles.

A series of medical tests paved the way to a lupus diagnosis. Avionne spent all four years of college going in and out of the hospital. Starting her sophomore year, she made monthly trips to see a doctor in Houston, Texas, all without missing a beat with her college work.

“I could not get this girl to stop school. She was on the honor roll. She was determined to finish with the class she started out with that summer, and she did just that. She graduated in four years,” Cannon-Thomas said.

With out-of-pocket medical expenses adding up with each trip to Houston, Avionne started seeing a doctor closer to home in Louisiana. Bad flare-ups were becoming a monthly occurrence by the time Avionne started looking for a job and preparing to apply to law school.

In September 2018, a trip to the hospital turned into a year-long stay in the ICU. In September 2019, she was moved to a regular room at University Hospital and remained there until being discharged in September 2020.

Her passing came as a shock to the community. Only two days before, St. John Parish government and the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office held a big parade for her homecoming. West Bank community members lined the roads and waited in her driveway to welcome her back to Edgard.

“I thank the parish president and the sheriff because they played a part in her coming home. They made it special, and I’ll never forget that,” Cannon-Thomas said.

Cannon-Thomas said she and Avionne spoke about starting a nonprofit organization while she was still in the hospital. Their plan was to travel and share her story across the country.

“She would smile, and that would give her hope. No matter what, her spirit was high, she was full of life, and she just wanted to heal. After she passed away, I thought I just can’t sit on this. No matter what, she was going to fly,” Cannon-Thomas said.

For donations and vendor information, please call Cannon-Thomas at504-352-3159 or email Avifly96@gmail.com. Donations may also be directed to Cashapp at $Avifly96.

Lupus survivors are also invited to reach out and share their stories.