Gone but never forgotten: How Anna's Army carries on a little girl's legacy

HILLSBORO, OH (FOX19) - In 2009, 8-year-old Anna Reno was battling cystic fibrosis with every fiber in her body.

Her family allowed FOX19's Tricia Macke into their private lives to show what cystic fibrosis can do. Anna was diagnosed when she was only a few months old. She spent her whole life surrounded by tubes, machines, medicine, breathing treatments, and also family and friends who loved her.

Anna died a day after she met Tricia, in March 2009 -- it was peaceful, and her family was there.

Tricia says she never forgot the little blonde-haired, blue-eyed third-grader, thinking about her often in the past nine years -- and she's not the only one.

"She was little, she was a little girl and she had a big fight in her and she may not have won it, but she won us and we're fighting for her and we're fighting for everyone else too," said Gabrielle Elmore.

Elmore's family started Anna's Army -- fundraisers in Anna's name -- in the years that have passed since her death, and have raised tens of thousands of dollars for cystic fibrosis research. The entire town of Hillsboro would walk in her name once a year, wearing their Anna's Army t-shirts.

Anna's legacy, the legacy of a girl who played soccer, adored her sisters and was always smiling, lives on through Anna's Army.

Anna's friends have grown up, but they never forgot her. There have been hundreds of days since the third grade that her friends would sit on a bench at the end of a Hillsboro High School hallway and talk about talk about her. The bench has traveled from the elementary school -- Anna's friends say they always leave a spot in the middle because that seat is taken, it was Anna's spot.

They say she was everybody's best friend.

This year would have been Anna's senior year of high school, and on prom night, Anna's friends took her with them.

The district also made sure Anna made it to graduation -- her parents were presented with an honorary diploma and flowers this past weekend.

Some of Anna's friends were willing to sit down recently with FOX19 -- they say Anna taught them never to take the little things for granted.

"After losing Anna, I regret not doing so much, and I do as much as I can with all my friends and spend as much time as I can with my family because it can go in the blink of an eye," said friend Emily Pence.

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