Posted June 19, 2010 by
Under • Opinion
With Hudl returning as a sponsor of the 2010 Nebraska Shrine Bowl, this week I had the honor of flying with the South Nebraska Shrine Bowl team to St. Louis to tour one of 22 Shriners hospitals. Side-by-side with the best of the best high school football players in the state, we were in for something more than just your average tour.
The bus ride from the airport to the hospital consisted of small talk between media and players. “Where are you headed on to play in college?”, “What position do you play?”, “How’s the week been living in the dorms?” These questions were trivial compared to what we were about to learn.
We were greeted by Susan Bland. She was a former Shriners patient. Born with Peromelia (missing multiple fingers from her right hand) - by the time she was 6 months old she was admited to Shriners. She had 6 reconstructive surgeries between the ages of 7 and 9. The reconstructive surgeries lengthened fingers and gave her pinching capabilities with her right hand.
“The hospital staff taught me that I could do anything even though I was born different.”
Her family was able to afford the medical care because treatment for children is provided at no financial obligation to families. Not one to allow physical challenges to hold her back, Bland forged ahead in high school with any and all activities that interested her, including cheerleading, softball and volleyball. Susan went on to graduate from Maryville University and, to give back to those at the hospital that changed her life, became the PR specialist for Shriners St. Louis hospital.
Throughout the day, six other Shriners patients were our tour guides. We were able to hear each of their stories, similiar stories to Susan’s. My tour guide was Morgan Swanner and her little sister Logan (pictured above). Morgan also had orthopedic problems. She was born with limb reduction. Her right forearm did not fully develop and caused her arm to be bent at all times. I could tell from the beginning that Morgan looked up to Susan as a role model. According to Morgan, Susan was “someone who was also born with a disability that caused strangers to stare at her.”
She and her mom talked me through their decision to attend Shriners. Other doctors at other hospitals had recommended tendon replacement from her left arm to her right. Chances of it being successful were slim and there was a large chance it could harm the functionality of her left arm. Convinced there had to be a less dramatic procedure, she admitted Morgan to Shriners.
After years of working with Morgan and minor surgeries, she now has the ability to fully extend her right arm. Morgan talked about the sense of confidence that Shriners had instilled in her. One specific story was about her attending Shriners Hand Camp. Children with conditions affecting the upper limbs and hands come together to enjoy climbing rock walls, singing around the campfire, fishing and archery along with getting to know other kids with their same challenges. She told me how she learned to tie her shoes, get dressed and dry her hair with one hand. Her mom said it was a lot more than just a time for her to learn.
“It wasn’t just about them learning these everyday tasks that she finds a challenge. The counselors were older kids, 21-25, that also had the same birth defects. It instills a sense of confidence that gives her the courage to go to school even when people gawk, play soccer, volleyball and basketball, and much more. It’s also a great time for us as parents to come together and learn from other parents about what challenges are ahead for her as she grows older.”
Just when I thought I’d hit my emotional limit for the day, one of the patients came on stage to say goodbye to us. Thirteen year-old Ali McManus was born with scoliosis. She wears a halo on a daily basis to help heal her condition. Regardless of her twenty percent lung capacity, she was going to sing for us. When she finished her performance, I glanced around the room. I’d never seen more grown men with tears in their eyes. At this point. the last thing on their minds was Saturday’s football game.
I tell these kids’ stories for one reason - it’s important to remember that tonight’s 6:30pm kick-off at Memorial Stadium is about a lot more than just the best Nebraska high school football players in the state coming together. It’s about Ali, Morgan and the millions of kids that the Shriners Hospital system takes in every year free of charge. We are honored to be a part of the event and the cause.
To donate visit: http://www.shrinershq.org/Hospitals/Main
Kim is head of marketing. She’s the hands behind our monthly newsletter and creative advertisement campaigns.