The Children's Miracle Network Champions program honors remarkable children from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland who have triumphed despite severe medical challenges. For their courage and perseverance, the Champions have been selected as international ambassadors for the 17 million kids treated each year at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.
Hannah Miller is a vivacious 9-year-old girl from Bismarck, ND. She loves My Little Ponies, her dog, Tundra, and spending time with her friends and family. These are just a few of the ways to describe Hannah.
And there's just one more "minor" thing. She survived a very serious form of bone cancer with a strength and spirit unmatched by many adults.
It started with a bump on her right arm in the summer of 2013. Hannah was experiencing pain with the unexplained bump that just wouldn't go away, and her parents knew it was time to seek medical help.
Unexpected turn of events
In July of 2013, she was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (also called osteosarcoma) in her right arm. This form of bone cancer is the most common in children and is quite aggressive, so early treatment is important.
"We certainly didn't anticipate the diagnosis," says Hannah's father, Phil. "But once it presented itself, it was an immediate and swift response, so we quickly understood just how serious this was for Hannah."
That same month, Hannah and her family were in Rochester having a biopsy and surgery to remove the cancer, which also meant removing part of the bone in her arm. Once the surgery was complete, her chemotherapy immediately began, and in August, she transitioned to Sanford Children's Hospital in Fargo for treatments.
And fortunately for the Miller family, Hannah was able to yet again move closer to home for part of her care. Sanford Children's Hospital in Bismarck was able to provide Hannah with certain care and therapies she needed, with the added comfort of knowing her friends and family were nearby.
Support through every step
She required 18 rounds of chemotherapy, which was a long and sometimes grueling process, but the little girl learned ways to cope – both physically and emotionally.
"The chemotherapy made me feel so sick, but I learned if I ate before having the treatments, I felt so much better," says Hannah. "I also had a lot of fun playing with a portable Wii at the hospital. Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers were my favorite games to play."
Hannah's mother, Donna, says those small distractions were a great tool for her daughter and other young patients to make the visits a little less daunting.
"The child life services in Fargo were an amazing benefit to Hannah," Donna says. "They were able to help ease the stress, strain and anxiety that children can feel during difficult times."
Hannah also reached out and connected with others patients to help keep their spirits up. During her stay at the hospital, she would use her creative side and make get well cards for each and every patient on the floor.
"This is just one way Hannah is so special," Phil says. "We watched our little girl provide support and advice to kids who were earlier in the process than Hannah. She would give them tips on how to handle things better."
Words of relief
At the end of October 2013 Hannah took a small break from her chemotherapy to have her first reconstructive surgery on her arm in Rochester. A bone graft was performed, which took 11 hours to complete. Surgeons used bone from her leg to regenerate the bone that was lost in her arm.
And then chemotherapy resumed until March of this year, followed by a second reconstructive surgery on her arm again in Rochester that lasted six hours. And on March 7 of this year, Hannah got the news she'd been waiting for – her cancer was gone.
"The doctors, nurses and staff at Sanford Children's – both in Fargo and Bismarck – that offered support during her treatments are a phenomenal group of people," says Phil. "The random acts of kindness that happened there every day were truly amazing to see."
The next chapter
But Hannah's journey isn't done yet. As this year's North Dakota's Children's Miracle Network Champion, she's beginning a new chapter and sharing her story on a much larger scale.
She has already completed some public speaking events and is providing encouragement to other kids and families.
"It's important to remember to ask for help if you need it," Hannah says. "Don't be afraid."
Hannah's father is proud of his daughter's accomplishments and overcoming some significant obstacles. And most importantly, he embraces life in a much different way.
"Through Hannah's entire journey, I began to witness a side to my daughter that I knew was always there, but she had to show it much earlier than I ever expected," Phil says. "She is truly an amazing, inspiring girl and our family has been blessed with an even closer bond than before."
Matthew Heuer looked across the field near their Leonard, N.D., home and saw the overturned ATV. Within minutes, he found his son, 9-year-old Jared, face down in the ditch. Matthew called 911, triggering help from the local ambulance and first responders. Sanford LifeFlight landed in the field and transported Jared to Sanford Emergency Center in Fargo.
At 23 weeks pregnant, Sarah was diagnosed with a rare disorder affecting blood flow to each identical twin. With advanced technology, Sarah was able to undergo a lifesaving laser procedure. The downside: increased risk for premature delivery. At 27 weeks, Jack and Joe arrived each weighing between 2 and 3 pounds.
An accidental gunshot caused a serious wound to 3-year-old Laine's left hip, prompting emergency surgery and specialized care at Sanford Children's Hospital. Laine spent a week in the hospital, then continued intensive wound treatment at home. Today, Laine runs, jumps and plays like any child would. A small boy … a bright future … the miracle of a brand new day.
2010: Alyssa Pratt
A doctor's appointment on June 10, 2009, in her hometown of Minot, N.D., led to the devastating news: blood tests showed leukemia. The family needed to travel to Sanford in Fargo immediately.
2009: Matthew Garberg
Born 16 weeks early in Bemidji, Minn., Matt Garberg weighed 1 pound, 5 ounces. Babies so small and fragile face obstacles that can last a lifetime, but the first challenge? Survival. A call to Sanford in Fargo set in motion a lifesaving journey.
2008: Cora Knudsvig
December 31, 2005 is a day the Keith and Tanya Knudsvig family will never forget. After complaining about a bad headache and vomiting, 5-year-old daughter Cora Knudsvig became unresponsive and was rushed to Sanford Children's Hospital where doctors diagnosed her with a brain tumor (Papillary Neuroglioma).
2007: Monica Hatch
Monica Hatch had an unstoppable zest for life, despite the challenges and hardships of cancer. In 2003, at the age of 11, Monica was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that starts in the connective tissue.
2006: Tanya Holbrook
On January 2, 2005, Tanya Holbrook complained to her mother about a headache. Knowing something was very wrong, Tanya was rushed to Sanford Children's Hospital. A cluster of blood vessels had exploded in her brain. Tanya was rushed into emergency surgery where doctors placed a stent in her head to relieve the pressure from the excess blood.
2005: Leah Vigum
Leah Vigum is a happy five-year-old who attends pre-school and loves to sing and dance. It is difficult to look at her bright smile today and believe that at the tender age of four months the unthinkable could have happened.
2004: Brandon Lee
In the fall of 2002, Brandon Lee began experiencing painful headaches, a condition unusual for an athletic nine-year-old boy. On New Year's Eve, when Brandon's headache became so severe that he could no longer tolerate the pain, his parents, Kimi and Jason, knew something was terribly wrong. They rushed him to Sanford Emergency Center, where doctors discovered a tumor behind Brandon's eye.
2003: Simon Nelson
The incident that earned Simon Nelson his place as CMN Champion actually took place two years ago. On January 22, 2001, young Simon, clad only in his pajamas, wandered out of his family's home near Hitterdal, Minn., into a 10-degree night. At 4:30am, Simon's mother, Janna, awoke to find the front door open. Sensing something was wrong, she went to check on Simon and his brother, DeForrest, only to find Simon's bed empty.
2002: Sara Flint
Sara Flint's surgeries began on Nov. 23, 1994, the day she was born at Sanford Health. Diagnosed with spina bifida, surgery was performed to close the opening on her spine. Ten days later, Sara underwent a second surgery to place a shunt into her head to drain off excess fluid.
2001: Tyler Klain
Fourteen-year-old Tyler Klain is the son of Durnell and Darcy Klain. He was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in March of 2000 and underwent many months of intensive chemotherapy treatment at Sanford in Fargo. He is now in remission and doing well. Tyler is a patient of Dr. Nathan Kobrinsky, a pediatric oncologist/hematologist at Sanford Children's Hospital.