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Toddler with cancer loses mom in wreck

Tracy Tillis and Keith Allison pose with their children, Savannah, on her mother’s lap, and Zachery.

Family photo

Tracy Tillis and Keith Allison pose with their children, Savannah, on her mother’s lap, and Zachery.

Three-year-old Savannah Allison took the hourlong trip to St. Joseph's Children Hospital in Tampa nearly every day.

After the little girl's diagnosis of stomach cancer a year ago, mom Tracy Tillis quit working so she could drive her to chemotherapy, blood tests and checkups.

On Thursday, Savannah's whole family made the trip from their home outside Brooksville — mom, dad and brother, Zachery, 4.

They all piled into a newly purchased 2003 Mitsubishi Montero and headed south.

At 10:25 a.m., Tracy changed lanes and somehow lost control. And a child with a fragile hold on life lost her mom. The sport utility vehicle flipped, hurling Tillis onto the road, killing her.

The Florida Highway Patrol is still investigating the one-vehicle accident, which occurred on Interstate 75 near Dade City.

Savannah, her brother and her father, Keith Allison, were treated at the hospital and released Thursday afternoon.

Allison, 24, could not be reached Thursday.

Savannah's parents started dating when her mom was in Pasco High School.

Tracy gave birth to Zachery when she was 17. She dropped out, moved in with Allison and called her mom every day.

Savannah came along soon after. Before she turned 2, the doctors found a tumor in her belly.

Tracy didn't know what to say to the nurses. She didn't know the answers to the questions about her family's health history. The names of diseases and cures were long, and she was scared.

"She was a young one herself," said her father, Charles Tillis, of Ridge Manor in Hernando County.

Tracy gave up her jobs as a waitress and secretary so she could tend to Savannah. If Savannah had a fever, the doctors made her stay in the hospital for three days. Mom slept there, too.

In January, Savannah had a hysterectomy.

"She dealt with stuff I couldn't deal with," said Tracy's mom, Melanie Schofield of Dade City.

Schofield stayed with Zachery when Savannah went to the hospital with her mom.

Wednesday, Savannah came over. She had a needle poking out of her chest, just above her heart, where the doctors pumped chemicals into her body.

Just a small plastic cap protected the needle from the world. Schofield was so afraid the girl would hurt herself. But she was fine.

Aside from the bald head and the needle, Schofield said, you wouldn't know Savannah had cancer.

Earlier this week, Tracy called her family. She and her boyfriend had just bought an SUV.

The first thing her sister Mandy Tillis thought was "She's going to end up flipping that thing."

But Tracy was ecstatic.

"It had enough room for kids and groceries," said Sophia Jones, Tracy's other sister.

Tracy had waited until she was 19 to get her driver's license. She was afraid to drive, afraid of semitrailer trucks and accidents.

But despite that fear, she never buckled up. Her family couldn't understand.

On Thursday, the Florida Highway Patrol said Savannah's mom wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Savannah and her brother will most likely live with their dad now. His mom already told Schofield that she could see her grandkids whenever she wants.

If Savannah's cancer doesn't return for a year, she will be considered cured.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or
(352) 521-6518.

Toddler with cancer loses mom in wreck 03/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 6:03pm]

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