(Reuters) - Lauren Hill, an Indiana native who scored the first basket of the Mount St. Joseph University women’s basketball season in November while suffering from a rare inoperable brain cancer, died on Friday at age 19, officials said.
“We are forever grateful to have had Lauren grace our campus with her smile and determined spirit,” university President Tony Aretz said in a statement. “She has left a powerful legacy. She taught us that every day is a blessing, every moment a gift.”
Hill had an advanced-stage diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, but remained determined to play basketball for the small Cincinnati, Ohio, university, which received permission to move its first game up two weeks to ensure she could play.
Demand was so strong for tickets that the team’s Nov. 2 game against Hiram College was moved to Xavier University’s arena, where more than 10,000 saw Hill score the game’s first basket. Mount St. Joseph won 66-55.
After the game, Hill became an advocate for her condition, which according to Weill Cornell Medical College is diagnosed in about 300 people each year. Many of those diagnosed are children under the age of 10.
Four-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player LeBron James called Hill “the true definition of strength, courage, power, leadership.”
“Your time spent on earth will never be forgotten,” he said in a post on Twitter, in which he said that while he had never met Hill he was inspired by her. “For every life u touched, u made the biggest impact of them by just being YOU!!” he added.
Hill helped raise $1.4 million for DIPG research, said The Cure Starts Now Foundation, which called her “a tireless advocate” and spokesperson for its efforts to find a cure.
At a vigil on Friday afternoon at Mount St. Joseph, women’s basketball coach Dan Benjamin called Hill “an unselfish angel.”
“It’s not often you get to celebrate a loss, but today we celebrate a victory of how to live a life through Lauren Hill,” Benjamin said. “Twenty-two (Hill’s number) you will be missed and remembered by so many. Rest in peace. We love you.”
A public memorial service for Hill is planned on Monday night at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. A private funeral service is planned for Wednesday.
Reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Louisville; Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey and Leslie Adler