The halls of Seattle Children’s Hospital are a familiar place to Joell Posey-Grager, Miss Seattle 2016, and her family. Now 24, before she was wearing crowns and singing to audiences, she was a patient at Seattle Children’s.
Recently, she returned to the hospital not as a patient, but as a visitor to help brighten the day for other patients like her. With a little help from two very special guests, RJ Mitte, from the popular television show “Breaking Bad”, and Romi Dames, from Disney’s “Hannah Montana,” that’s exactly what they did.
Posey-Grager has always wanted to give back to the hospital that saved her life. Like the patients she visited in the inpatient playroom at Seattle Children’s, she understands the challenges of being in the hospital as a child so what better way to spread cheer than with a glittering crown and a story of hope.
From patient to pageant
Hours after Posey-Grager was born, she was transferred to Seattle Children’s with a beta-strep infection and was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where she was put on life support. Her lungs were filling with fluid and her organs were shutting down. According to her mother, Carlyne Grager, doctors said she was given less than a 5% chance of survival.
Her first 72 hours of life were touch and go. Doctors told her family their baby girl may only have hours left, so they prepared for the worst.
Fortunately, she beat the odds.
“She started spiraling downward so quickly,” said Grager. “Without the heroic efforts of the physicians and nursing staff, Joell would not be with us today.”
Posey-Grager stayed inpatient at the hospital for the first month of her life. She was diagnosed with chronic lung disease and cerebral palsy.
For years, she needed follow up care at Seattle Children’s. She was in and out of the hospital for treatment for cerebral palsy and scoliosis and was also diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (AS). She was seen by a myriad of doctors as well as occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists.
Today, Posey-Grager is thriving. She still manages symptoms from her ongoing medical conditions, but she hasn’t let them slow her down.
She lives by a simple motto: “Everything happens for a reason.”
“I’ve had to overcome a lot of things in my life, but I have,” said Posey-Grager. “I dance, I play sports and I sing. Some people thought those things would never be possible for me, but they are. You can’t be that close to death and not be brought back for a reason.”
She hopes others will be inspired by her story and will find joy in their own stories.
“You wouldn’t know the wonderful parts of life without those down times,” said Posey-Grager. “Out of some of the most tragic moments the best things can come.”
Bringing joy to patients
When Cassidy Huff, 13, came into the playroom in her wheelchair with her mother and saw Posey-Grager, her smile lit up the room. Huff has been in the hospital for more than three weeks. She recently underwent her 38th surgery. She was born with a rare genetic syndrome, and like Posey-Grager, has been a patient of Seattle Children’s since birth. Every six months she comes in for treatment for scoliosis.
“Seattle Children’s is like home to us,” said Shannon Reynolds, Huff’s mother. “It’s a really amazing place, but being here is also exhausting. Cassidy was having a really bad night, but this morning seeing new faces and getting to meet new people made her really happy. She’s nothing but smiles today. It’s really amazing.”
Adorned above Huff’s wheelchair are the words, “You are the hero of your own story.” She, like Posey-Grager, hopes to inspire others.
“She’s always wanted to make a difference,” said Reynolds. “She loves sharing her story with people. She told me one day when she’s old enough she wants to come back and give back.”
Huff has another month to go before she can leave the hospital, but today she wasn’t thinking about that. She was smiling and laughing and taking a group selfie with her new friends, Posey-Grager, Mitte and Dames.
Posey-Grager and Huff both wear crowns, although they’re differing styles – one medical, bedazzled with rhinestone stickers, the other made out of diamonds – the two young women share a commonality: courage.
“This is the place I want to be,” said Posey-Grager. “I can’t think of a better way to give back.”