The Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Champions program presented by Delta Air Lines, Marriott International and Chico's FAS identifies a child from each state, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico with a remarkable medical story and passion for advocating on behalf of children's hospitals. These Champions serve as ambassadors for the 62 kids treated every minute at 170 member Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.
Talia Hay's hair is much shorter than it used to be. The strands of dark curls have regrown, covering her head and the scar that now winds its way from above her left ear up and over to the right side of her forehead. You'd never know it was there or that less than nine months ago, Talia was in a helicopter being rushed to Fargo for an emergency craniotomy.
"All I remember is that the doctors said there was a cluster of blood vessels in my brain," says Talia. "And I could have had them all my life without even knowing, but they just popped."
Talia had an AVM, which is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain. And as Talia's did, these tangles can rupture, causing blood to flow into the brain.
"The school nurse called me at work," remembers Talia's dad, Alfonzo. "She said Talia was acting out, and I was like, ‘My daughter?' That's just not her. So I'm driving to school when I get another phone call saying that she is in and out of consciousness. At this point I start panicking."
First responders took Talia to the hospital in Grand Forks where a CT scan discovered the blood on her brain. She was immediately flown by Sanford AirMed to Sanford Children's in Fargo.
"My wife and I drove to Fargo so Talia got there before we did," says Alfonzo. "And on the way, the doctors at Sanford called us and said that they needed to do surgery. And we said that was fine. Just do whatever it takes to help our daughter."
Alexander Drofa, MD, endovascular neurosurgeon at the Sanford Brain & Spine Center in Fargo, along with a team of specially trained providers performed the complex and high risk surgery.
Talia spent a total of 11 days at Sanford Children's. Many questions had to be answered about her brain function. Could she still feel her toes? Her fingers? Would there be damage to her speech?
Because of Dr. Drofa's expertise and the advanced tools and equipment at Sanford Children's, Talia was exactly where she needed to be. The center has a dedicated inpatient neurosciences unit, prepared to handle life-threatening conditions like Talia's.
"Those 11 days taught us how to pray," says Michelle, Talia's mom. "I'm very big on planning but we had to step back and go hour by hour. And any little breakthrough, her first step, the first time she talked, it was a huge accomplishment."
And because of Talia's determination to get better, she was chosen as the 2016/2017 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals North Dakota Champion.
"She went through a lot and fought through it all," says Talia's younger sister Emelia. "I feel like she's such a good example of staying strong through everything when all she wanted to do was go home. So I think she'll be a really good champion for other kids to look to."
"The staff at Sanford Children's was amazing and for them to nominate Talia for this was a real honor," says Michelle. "And the fact that she can tell her story to kids, show them how to be strong, and maybe that will want them to fight a little harder."
Anyone who meets Anna Olivia Marcy can tell she is one very special little girl. With a smile that will steal your heart, she caught the attention of everyone who walked into her hospital room.
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. In July of 2013, she was diagnosed a form of bone cancer that is common in children and is quite aggressive, so early treatment is important.
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.