Meet the Memorial Tournament Patient Champions!

Courtesy of NBC4

The Memorial Tournament Patient Champion Program is designed to recognize the strong, driving spirit and optimistic outlook of each patient that inspires not only their family and loved ones, but the entire community. Each year, eight Patient Champions from Nationwide Children’s Hospital have the opportunity to take center stage for pre-tournament events and meet PGA TOUR professionals and VIP Tournament experiences. 

Alina

Name: Alina
Diagnosis: Aneurysmal Bone Cyst
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Age: 8

In early 2019, Alina started to have worsening hip pain progressing to the point that she was no longer able to walk and was in a wheelchair. After seeing orthopedic specialists at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Alina was diagnosed with an Aneurysmal Bone Cyst and a pathologic fracture.

Alina was recommended for a series of interventional radiology procedures at Nationwide Children's, one of the few places in the world that she could receive this treatment. Along with physical therapy, Alina was able to make an almost complete clinical recovery.

“Nationwide Children's has been great supporting our daughter and family through all of this. The physicians, nurses, physical therapists and staff have been responsive and supportive. We are happy to do what we can to help Nationwide Children's help other children going through difficult times in their young lives,” said Ritu, Alina’s mother.

Alina is an avid reader and loves to write her own short stories. As she continues to get better, she has been returning to playing tennis and dancing. She has big aspirations and hopes to change the world with one of her inventions someday. Alina has a big heart and is always trying to help people less fortunate than her.

This experience has really made Alina realize how lucky she has been that her tumor was benign. While she was undergoing treatments, she, along with her older sister, held a fundraiser for a lemonade stand to help kids with cancer which has now become an annual event for her family. She and her sister, with their parents help and guidance, have also been in the process of starting a charity to provide birthday presents to homeless children. Alina has a big heart and is always trying to help people less fortunate than her.

Anna

Name: Anna
Diagnosis: Cerebral Palsy
Hometown: Vienna, West Virginia
Age: 15

Anna was born prematurely at just 29 weeks and diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy early on in life. This makes any sort of physical activity difficult for her, but she is always up for the challenge.

Anna’s love for golf first kindled when she participated in the national Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, a junior skills competition. When eight-year-old Anna decided she wanted to play, her father, Micheal, told her he did not know how it was going to work out. Anna replied, “Dad, it’s okay. I am used to finishing last.”

“To this day, it breaks our hearts thinking about hearing those words come out of our eight-year-old daughter’s mouth,” said Micheal.

As it turned out, Anna won the first round – albeit the only entrant. Regardless, she held her first place ribbon excitedly, having never finished first in anything before. She finished second in the next round, which advanced her to regionals. Although she did not win regionals, she had finally found the sport that would allow her to compete with her peers.

A few years later, Anna was named a starter on her coed middle school golf team. She weighed just 70 pounds and was barely four and a half feet tall but was beating boys twice her size. Despite her condition making it physically difficult for her to keep up with friends in everyday life, she continued to excel in her niche, golf.

In the winter of 2017, Anna began to have such tremendous pain in her lower body that it was difficult for her to walk. The spasticity – a condition that causes stiff, tight muscles – in her legs created misalignments in her feet, knees, hips and back. She had to resort to use a wheelchair for any long distances and worst of all was unable to play golf as her left foot was unable to be flat. After discussing various surgical options with her medical team, Anna underwent Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) surgery in May 2018, a spinal procedure to help reduce spasticity that only a few pediatric hospitals offer.

Though her first few days in recovery were extremely difficult, Anna’s determination persevered over the pain and she worked every day to meet that goal. She made it known to everyone who would listen that she would walk out of the hospital without assistance, and that she needed to be ready for fall golf which started three months post operatively.

19 days later, Anna independently walked out of the hospital, with that notable smile on her face. Her neurosurgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Leonard, a golfer himself, said he would clear her to play if she beat him putting at her follow up visit. Determined, Anna attended physical therapy, the gym and pool multiple times weekly. In addition, she volunteered at a summer reading and nutrition program for at risk kids, and as a counselor at a junior golf camp. Anna was unable to golf herself while recovering but wanted to be on the golf course.

In August 2018, at her three month checkup, Dr. Leonard put a paper cup down for Anna to putt into, as promised. She made it. Before he even putted, he told her she was cleared. Then, he putted himself, and missed. She beat him. Anna left her appointment and had one mission that day – to swing a club. She and her Mom and Dad drove to the driving range, where she swung that club until her hands bled. Though she was a bit disappointed in her swing, she was determined to improve. In the following days, she would be on the course every day. Anna rejoined the golf team that season and went on to make the all-county team. For a Mom and Dad who were not sure their child would ever be able to enjoy her one passion again, they say it was humbling to see their child shine. If you ask Anna though, she never had a doubt once that she would return post-surgery.

The past 18 months have been amazing for Anna and her family. Anna still plays golf and has had a successful year. At her first tournament, they were told she was not allowed to ride in a cart due to an issue involving paperwork. Her coach told Anna that she should do what she could walking and if she needed to withdraw, then she would be proud of what she had accomplished. Anna did not blink as she said, “I will finish my round.” She walked that match and every subsequent match after, even once the paperwork to allow her accommodation of riding in the golf cart was received. She lettered on her high school golf team, finished 12th in the WV State High School Girls Championship – walking an extremely hilly terrain. Anna said her greatest accomplishment on the golf course, was not finishing in the top 12 out of 69, but the fact she walked that course with every other girl.

Anna’s story does not stop there. At the end of the year, her golf coach told her that she needed to get stronger and recommended she swim with the swim team. Anna is not comfortable with swimming, but to everyone’s surprise, she said she wanted to join the crew team. Anna works out five days a week with her crew team, and when the coach has offered her accommodations to these workouts, Anna says she wants to do what everyone else is doing, when she can do it. Additionally, she attends a non-mandatory practice at 6am on Fridays because she “just wants to get better.” She has already decreased her time in rowing, though her goal is to be a coxswain.

“My wife and I cannot say enough how the miracle of having Anna back on her own two feet has meant to us. We must admit we are probably the only parents in the world that has a slight smile in their heart when their teenage daughter stomps away to her room. We will forever appreciate Dr. Leonard and his team for the miracle they performed,” said Micheal.

Though Anna has never had a goal to be an inspiration to anyone, she is to everyone who meets her.

Bryana

Name: Bryana
Diagnosis: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage II
Hometown: Albany, Ohio
Age: 17

In January of 2019, Bryana was elbowed in the neck which caused swelling and a mysterious lump. She had two ultrasounds with the second ultrasound showing three lumps instead of one. A biopsy was taken and on August 15th, 2019 Bryana was told that she had stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“It was a shock and hard to believe at first. All summer I had no side effects and was a healthy, very active kid practicing cheerleading six days a week and running several miles a week preparing for cross country,” said Bryana.

On August 23rd, 2019 she began chemotherapy.

“Before all of this, I would always tell people that everything happens for a reason. Through this I learned, it doesn’t matter the amount of hair you have on your head, or the number of scars you have on your body, everyone is going through something, whether it be big or small. Everyone at one point is thrown on a different road that they had no intentions of going down,” said Bryana.

On November 14th, 2019 Bryana received the news that she was cancer free!

When asked what Nationwide Children’s Hospital means to her, she says, “It is home away from home. The staff at Nationwide Children’s are compassionate, ambitious, courageous and passionate. When I was going through chemotherapy, the doctors and nurses were amazing, treating every child like their own and making them feel as if they were at home. I always had what I needed, and all the activities kept me from being bored. I’ve missed half of my junior year of high school, so Nationwide Children’s partnered with The Ohio State University to provide me with a robot that would go to my school so I could still participate in classes. Without their help, I would have been behind the rest of the students in my grade.”

In her free time, Bryana enjoys participating in competitive and school cheerleading along with cross country. When she gets older, she would love to become a Pediatric Oncology Nurse at Nationwide Children's Hospital and help the kids going through cancer, just like the nurses did for her. Bryana says, “I would love to be able to help and give back to a place that helped me!”

Cash

Name: Cash
Diagnosis: Coarctation of the Aorta, Mixed Hearing Loss, Short Gut Syndrome
Hometown: Newark, OH
Age: 11

Cash was born on March 17, 2009 weighing 9 lbs., 4 oz and 23 in. long! A day after he was born, his family found out that he had congenital heart disease including coarctation of the aorta, a large ventricular septal defect and atrial septal defect. They were told he would need surgery quickly due to the coarctation.

The next morning, Cash's large intestine perforated due to the coarctation and he needed emergency surgery. At that time, his family was advised that they needed to call in their pastor that Cash wouldn't survive through the night and if he did, he would need multiple surgeries. Fortunately, Cash beat the odds and began his long road to recovery.

Cash had open-heart surgery at six weeks old. He was in the hospital for 105 days before he was able to go home. At seven years old, Cash went back for another heart catherization. He was having a "big boy" stent placed. Everything was going as planned, until two nurses came out into the waiting room looking for Cash’s mother.

“The next thing I saw was the crash cart being wheeled to Cash’s room. I was told again that they weren't sure how Cash was going to get through this, that the internal bleeding was much worse than they had thought,” said Erica, Cash’s mother.

Cash was in critical condition afterwards and spent 11 days in the hospital. He went through four surgeries in three days.

“I will always be so grateful for Nationwide Children's Hospital. They are the reason my son can be here today and do all the things we were told at one time, that he might not be able to do. I tell everyone that Dr. Jonathon Wispe was an angel sent from heaven for Cash,” said Erica, Cash’s mother.

Cash loves baseball and golf. He is also very good at reading and math. At one point, his doctors didn't think he would be able to play sports because of his heart condition, but he is a typical 11-year-old boy!

Colt

Name: Colt
Diagnosis: Poly Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
Hometown: Jackson, OH
Age: 11

Colt was diagnosed with Poly Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at 22 months old. He was diagnosed with Uveitis, an inflammation of the eye, about three years ago. He has gone through multiple rounds of steroid injections to control his flare ups.

In 2016, Colt's doctors felt that he was doing well enough to start removing him from one of his medications. He was officially reduced to one shot in December of 2016 and this continues to be his weekly treatment.

As of January 2020, Colt’s doctors have started to reduce the last medication he is currently on!

At 11 years old, Colt now has a better understanding of his diagnosis. He's not ashamed or scared of it. He embraces it and uses it to help others who are afraid of shots or going to the doctor and hospitals.

Colt’s family actively fundraises for Nationwide Children’s Hospital. For the past few years, they have brought Valentine’s Day cards to patients. With the help of their community, they would bring over 5,000 Valentine’s Day cards to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “I ask him every year if he wants to do this again and he always says, "Well yeah mom!”, said Erikka, Colt’s mother.

Colt loves to golf, he started when he was two years old! He also plays travel and recreational baseball, flag football, and loves to help people, even if it’s as small as doing chores. Colt has a big heart and he would do anything for anyone. He has a ten-year-old little brother and they get along well, as well as brothers can!

Throughout his journey with arthritis, Colt always enjoys going to Nationwide Children's and seeing the fish tank, Magic Forest, and different animal friends. He frequently changes what he wants to be when he grows up, but they have all been consistent with helping people, from a fireman to a police officer, to a doctor, and sometimes a pro baseball player.

Nationwide Children’s means everything to Colt and his family. “This hospital has helped us through really hard times and made them better. They have helped get Colt's arthritis under control and manageable so that he can be an active kid again. He likes his doctor's and they like his bubbly happy personality as well,” said Erikka.

Grace

Name: Grace
Diagnosis: Cleft Lip and Palate
City:
Blacklick, Ohio
Age: 8

Before Grace was born, her parents learned that she would have a cleft lip and possible cleft palate. “Dr. Kirschner and his team made us feel like family and gave us the confidence we needed to face this new trial in our lives,” says Grace’s mom, Kelly. Grace had her first surgery at four months and her second when she was 1-year old.

“Through the support of the doctors, nurses and staff, we got through one of the hardest things we ever had to go through as a family. We are forever grateful.” Grace’s parents took grateful to the next level and are paying it forward by comforting and helping other families with members who have cleft lip and/or cleft palate.

Today, Grace is a ray of sunshine. She brings joy everywhere she goes. Grace loves being with her family, playing with her friends, and participating in gymnastics and volleyball. 

Jude

Name: Jude
Diagnosis: VATERS syndrome
Hometown: Hilliard, Ohio
Age: 7

Jude was born in China with a condition known as VATERS syndrome, which is a cluster of congenital abnormalities commonly seen together. He was abandoned as a baby and had his first of many life-saving surgeries there in China.

When Jude was four years old, he was adopted by the Reichert’s, and in the words of his mom Ileah, “became the light of our little family.”

After being home a short time, he began his first of a multitude of very invasive testing at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which lead to the finding of more and more complications of this syndrome. Jude has undergone several surgeries, particularly in the last year, to make his life “normal” and to keep him healthy.

“This hospital has not only helped our family diagnose and treat our son, they have held us together when we were falling apart and have supported us when we didn’t know how to manage him and his complex needs. They do this while striving to put smiles on everyone’s faces – not just the child – but the struggling parents and siblings as well. We are forever grateful,” said Ileah.

The Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction (CCPR) is leading the way in providing high quality care for children diagnosed with colorectal conditions. At Nationwide Children’s, every child diagnosed with a colorectal or pelvic condition is handled with an individualized treatment plan. Because of the complexity of many conditions, some children require care throughout their life.

“He is truly the strongest and bravest person I have ever met, young or old. He faces each challenge with a smile – and a little sass – and doesn’t let anything slow him down. We have not been a blessing for him, like many people assume – HE has been a blessing to US,” said Ileah.

When asked what he would tell other kids who must go the hospital and have surgery often, Jude replied, “I would say, it’s ok, be brave, don’t be afraid, and they have really good doughnuts and movies there!”

Jude is an intelligent, bubbly seven-year-old who loves dressing up, going to the park, Power Rangers and superheroes.

Killian

Name: Killian
Diagnosis: Severe Prematurity, Sensory Integration, ADHD
Hometown: Reynoldsburg, Ohio
Age: 10

As soon as his parents knew they were pregnant, they named their son to be, Killian, which means small and fierce. It would turn out to be the perfect name.

At 25 weeks, Killian’s mom suddenly went into labor. The doctors did all they could to hold off delivery for more than three days of active labor in order to give Killian several rounds of steroids to strengthen his underdeveloped lungs. And then little fighter Killian made his grand entrance onto the stage of this world, weighing in at 2lbs, 2oz.

Killian was born so early, much of his natural development had not taken place yet. His lungs were not ready to function on their own and his brain was not developed enough to help his lungs breath automatically. Killian was intubated, required a feeding tube for nutrition, and received a PICC line to deliver caffeine and other medications to his heart. Tiny Killian suffered a moderate brain bleed and underwent surgery to repair an unclosed hole in his aorta. His fragile, paper-thin skin could not maintain a safe body temperature. Can you imagine having a new little baby and not being able to hold him or touch him because his skin was so fragile it could easily tear?

“The sight of his tiny body connected to so many wires, tubes, sensors and monitors was shocking and frightening at first. Thankfully, Killian bravely battled through more than 100 days in the NICU and earned his way to a discharge home close to his original due date,” said Killian’s mother, Nina.

More than 4,400 babies will be cared for at Nationwide Children's Hospital Newborn Intensive and Special Care Units (NICUs) this year, which includes the Memorial Tournament Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on Nationwide Children’s main campus. They make up the largest neonatal network in the country. Nationwide Children’s provides the most advanced treatments from the most caring doctors and the most sophisticated technology the world has to offer.

“Nationwide Children’s Hospital represents world-class medical care available in our community when we needed it most. Prior to Killian’s adventure, our family had very little awareness of prematurity, NICUs, and everything that goes on in that realm. We generally knew about Nationwide Children’s Hospital, but we had no idea the level of expertise, the depth of compassion by clinicians, and the devotion to helping kids get better,” said Killian’s father, Tim. “We hadn’t experienced what truly goes on inside those walls before that time - but when we needed their help, they exceeded every expectation.”

Killian has continued to conquer many health obstacles during his ten years of life, requiring many visits to a variety of clinics at Nationwide Children's. Today he enjoys skiing, jumping on the trampoline, playing video games, hiking, biking and wrestling with his brothers. He is a voracious reader and loves to learn about historical figures. Killian’s passion for acting and the performing arts has exploded in recent years.

“He is a happy, healthy, and silly – but still fierce, ten-year-old,” says Nina. Killian also loves making new friends and being around other people – a perfect fit for a Patient Champion at the Memorial Tournament Presented by Nationwide!

Sam

Name: Sam
Diagnosis: Malignant Spinal Ependymoma Grade III
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Age: 14

Sam is a super active and fun-loving kid. Whatever is right in front of him, he conquers and puts his whole heart into it. For weeks leading up to December 28, 2018, Sam had complained about his back hurting, developing a knot below his shoulder blade. This pain progressed and soon he was hobbling around, sometimes dragging his foot and holding onto everything while walking.

After much concern, the Short family was sent to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. After a long night of tests and an MRI, a tumor was found on Sam’s spine. The tumor was about five inches long. Surgery was scheduled for the very next day. Sam had a malignant spinal ependymoma grade II in the vertebrae c6-t2, the very vertebrae that holds your head up.

Sam progressed quickly from the ICU to the rehab floor and because of the amazing work of the therapeutic, massage, physical and occupational therapists, Sam’s rehabilitation inpatient stay was one week.

Sam was completing his outpatient therapy two-three times per week and gaining strength and proprioceptive skills. He was doing great and his recovery was on the right track.

Almost one year later, Sam was admitted to Nationwide Children’s Hospital with a possible reoccurrence with numbness in his toes. After multiple tests and an MRI, the scans showed that Sam’s tumor was back. Surgery was scheduled for that same week. The neurosurgery team was able to resect 60-80% of the tumor because of the delicate location of the tumor as it relates to his spinal cord...c1-t2, anterior and posterior location. The spinal ependymoma grade II is a very difficult tumor to manage.

Sam recovered with a halo-type brace and weeks following his surgery, Sam began his proton therapy for 28 treatments. After the strong collaboration and expertise of the neuro-oncology and neurosurgery teams at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Sam will undergo chemotherapy to continue to fight his battle against further tumor growth.

Throughout Sam’s journey, he has never shown fear or discouragement. Whether it was attending a basketball game with his friends at school just days after surgery, or decorating his halo brace with Christmas lights, he always had a smile on his face.

Sam loves helping others, especially little children. He loves baseball and basketball!