Non-profit honors local high school student


Above Ashley Code was awarded a donation from her highscool, Holy Cross. Below is the logo of The Ashley Code Project, a non-profit started in Ashley’s honor. Courtesy of the Code family.

Lily Cummings

Local high school student Ashley Marie Code was described by her family and friends as a young woman who loved playing piano, spending time with family and God, and she was determined to cure cancer before she knew it would take her life.

Ashley lived a relatively normal life until her junior year at Mount Carmel when she was having trouble reading and sideswiped three cars on three different occasions, her parents said.

The Codes decided to have Ashley’s eyes checked but the optometrist said Ashley had no peripheral vision and suggested getting a brain scan. The next day, her father and Loyola graduate Michael Code said Ashley had an MRI and within two hours he received a call from the doctors “saying there was something on her brain.”

“They confirmed that it was an anaplastic astrocytoma, and it was aggressive and inoperable,” Michael Code said. “So we said, ‘just guide us and let us know how we need to treat it.’”

The specialist the Codes needed to guide them was a pediatric neuro-oncologist but the nearest expert was a neuro oncologist, not pediatric, over an hour away.

“If Ashley wasn’t feeling well, or her blood work wasn’t right, just to get in that car and drive wasn’t great,” Michael Code said.

Ashley battled cancer, taking trips to Baton Rouge, receiving chemotherapy and radiation, but also attending football games, study hours at Mount Carmel and sleepovers with friends.

“She picked up her cross and carried it,” her mother, Cassi Code said.

Frank Callicchia, the head of the department for neurosurgery at LSU Health Sciences Center, was asked to see Ashley after they found abnormalities in her brain.

“Most pediatric brain tumors are specific to pediatric patients that are much younger than Ashley, and require different approaches and treatments because they’re different tumors and they’re much smaller,” Callicchia said.

According to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, more children die from brain tumors than any other form of cancer, and there are more than 100 types of tumors making a diagnosis challenging.

Ashley’s fight lasted about a year, and ended in September of 2016. The funeral was at St. Ann Church and National Shrine in Metairie where she attended elementary school, and met her best friend, Madeline Puente.

Now, Ashley’s fight is carried on with the help of Madeline’s mom and Loyola graduate, Karen Puente.

“The year that Ashley had was incredible,” Karen Puente said. “She brought a community together here at St. Ann, and across the city. She never once complained about her plight.”

“Her number one goal was to find a cure for cancer,” Karen Puente said. “So The Ashley Code Project was meant to happen.”

In the Spring of 2019, The Ashley Code Project nonprofit began to raise funds to bring a pediatric neuro-oncologist to New Orleans.

In addition to the nonprofit, Calicchia said that Louisiana’s absence of a neuro-oncologist has prompted him to reach out to doctors at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to bring one to New Orleans.

“You’re only seeing people who can travel, who are physically able to travel because the tumor hasn’t disabled them. You only see the patients who can afford to travel, or have the infrastructure to do so,” Callicchia said.

Karen Puente decided to go back to school for construction so that she could build dream homes to raise money for the Ashley Code Project. Through this and other fundraisers, Karen has spearheaded The Ashley Code Project as the director which she said has taken off in the last few months.

“Treatment takes you away from your city, your home, your family and friends and on the pediatric side of things nothing matters more,” Michael Code said.

Now, the Codes believe Ashley is in heaven–but they have boots on the ground– a part of what they call “Ashley’s Army” to work on making her dream of curing cancer come true.