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The Muddy Puddles Project: How making a big mess can help kids with cancer

Why would parents encourage their kids to jump in muddy puddles and make a mess? It goes back to one little boy's wish... and Peppa Pig.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

It's been nearly five years since Cindy Campbell's son Ty, then five, died of brain cancer.

But Campbell refuses to forget a wish Ty made while undergoing a grueling chemotherapy regimen.

"It was a really tough road and we knew from the beginning that his prognosis was really poor," Campbell told TODAY Parents. "But we always tried to keep it positive, and one day I was talking to him about what he wanted to do once his cancer was gone and he was feeling better. He was wide-eyed and excited and said, 'I'm gonna jump in a muddy puddle.'"

Ty was two when he was diagnosed with cancer, and during nearly three years of treatments, spent a great deal of time weak and bedridden.

"He fell in love with a program called 'Peppa Pig,'" said Campbell. "And Peppa and her brother George loved to jump in muddy puddles."

Campbell says her son's simple request brought her to tears.

At age two, Ty Campbell was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer. He died three years later, shortly after his fifth birthday.Cindy Campbell

"There are so many circumstances — disabilities, cancer — that can keep a kid from enjoying the really simple pleasures," said Campbell. "So for Ty and for all of the kids that can't enjoy their childhood the way they should, we started asking other parents to let their kids jump in muddy puddles. And we told them they should, too — they should be silly with their kids and not think about the mess. They should just go for it, jump in, and approach life with a kid-like spirit."

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Campbell, who lives in Pawling, New York with her husband, Louis and her sons, Gavin, 8, and Bodhi, 9 months, says after Ty died in October 2012, she wanted to help make sure other families did not have to lose a child to cancer. After creating the Ty Louis Campbell Foundation to fund pediatric cancer research, Campbell and her husband came up with a unique fundraising idea — an outdoor event for kids called "Mess Fest" that Campbell describes as "Woodstock for kids."

Cindy and Louis Campbell with their son, Ty.Cindy Campbell

Mess Fest is a function of the Muddy Puddles Project, a fundraising effort for the foundation that is named after Ty's wish to get well and jump in muddy puddles — just like Peppa Pig. In less than five years, the Ty Louis Campbell foundation has raised more than $1,000,000 for childhood cancer research, a large portion of which is thanks to the Muddy Puddles Project.

This year's Mess Fest event will take place on August 5 in Mahopac, New York, and will allow both sick and healthy children to spend a day having food fights, riding on zip lines, jumping in mud puddles and making other messes that would ordinarily be discouraged.

And, for the second year in a row, the festival will be supported by Entertainment One, the entertainment company responsible for Peppa Pig's hit TV show.

Kids who attend Mess Fest can throw pies, participate in food fights, and ride zip lines.The Muddy Puddles Project

"We are honored that Peppa Pig was such an important and positive part of Ty's life," said Julie Powell Christopher, the North American vice president of marketing for Entertainment One. "We hope Peppa's involvement...will inspire families everywhere to help the Muddy Puddles Project raise funds as well as awareness for pediatric cancer."

Celebrity moms like Lisa Loeb, who tweeted a video of herself jumping in a muddy puddle in New York City in April, have embraced the Muddy Puddles Project's mission.

"The action of jumping in a puddle is fun," Loeb told TODAY Parents in an email. "And by making a video of yourself and your family doing it, you can spread the word about the organization that helps kids with cancer in memory of a sweet boy who wanted to jump in muddy puddles, too."

For parents like Matthew Kabel, whose daughter, Sally, recently went through cancer treatment, jumping in mud puddles and attending Mess Fest are about celebrating his daughter's childhood.

"When Sally was in treatment and we lived in isolation, Mess Fest was an opportunity for our children to get outside together in a safe environment and do the messy things they couldn't do at home or anywhere else," said Kabel. "For us, as cancer parents, it was a chance to let our guards down for just a few hours and let our kids just be kids and enjoy a sense of normalcy that childhood cancer robbed from them."

Campbell says through the Muddy Puddles Project, her son's spirit lives on.Cindy Campbell

Campbell says more than 3,000 kids are expected to attend this year's Mess Fest. Between seeing the festival reach its fifth, and most successful year, and watching supporters upload puddle-jumping videos on social media using the #peppamuddypuddlechallenge hashtag, Campbell says she knows her son's spirit lives on and continues to help others.

"It just makes my heart explode because it's not just about my son and his wish," said Campbell. "It's about the idea of putting childhood back in childhood and bringing the fun back to our busy, crazy, over-scheduled lives. People are embracing Ty's dream and remembering that there are children out there who need help."