The patients at Seattle Children’s inspire. Through their tremendous stories, we have the opportunity to learn about what it means to be brave—what it means to persevere. Monumental accomplishments demand to be celebrated.
Over the years, Seattle Children’s has had the honor of sharing the incredible stories of our Patient Ambassadors. Several of those that already shared their personal and trying stories have reached a new milestone: graduation. Though 2020 has been one of the most challenging years in decades, the tremendous accomplishments of our patients are all the reason to celebrate.
This budding Broadway superstar underwent 41 surgeries in 15 years. Cassidy, 18, is one of around 150 people in the world with the very rare genetic condition called Conradi–Hunermann syndrome. The condition mostly affects Cassidy’s lungs and spine but did also leave her blind in one eye and deaf in one year.
Even though she’s spent a lot of time at Seattle Children’s, this young woman doesn’t let her condition define her. She’s known for her stage presence and spectacular musical talents. She’s been a professional musician since she was 8 and has had her sights set on the big stage since she began performing.
A multi-instrumentalist, she’s taught herself several songs and now plays countless instruments: from the piano to the ukulele. As if this weren’t impressive enough, she’s also a stellar singer. Cassidy says music is how she says thank you to Seattle Children’s by visiting patients in the hospital to play music and sing for them.
“Music is healing, and I love bringing smiles to other kids and families,” Cassidy said.
This year, Cassidy graduated from Mount Rainier High School. Cassidy is an August Wilson Monologue Competition Finalists for her Vera monologue in the play, Seven Guitars. Because of COVID-19, this was the first year the contest was held virtually.
The competition’s co-founder, Kenny Leon, said that the virtual contest finals were the proudest moment in the event’s history. Cassidy is working her way to be on Broadway and to show others with disabilities that a career in the theatre is possible no matter what you look like.
Cassidy said, “I want others to look at me performing and think to themselves, ‘Well if she can do it, I can too!’”
Cassidy’s next stop? American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) College of Performing Arts in Los Angeles.
After a family trip to Puerto Rico when Iris was just 6, she started to experience headaches. It took over six months to diagnose the tumors coating her brain and spine, and for Iris to begin radiation and chemotherapy at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Treatment was tough but Iris was tougher.
Because Iris felt like she had so much support at Seattle Children’s through her journey against cancer, she felt comfortable voicing her new questions regarding her own sexuality and gender to Seattle Children’s Gender Clinic once she entered 9th grade. Given her complex medical history, she needed her providers to think creatively to support her transition.
The cancer and gender teams collaborated and helped Iris feel empowered to make her own decisions about her gender and sexuality.
“The most important thing to know about me is that I’m more than the sum of my parts. I don’t want to be defined by my diagnosis, my gender or my sexuality. I am, above all else, a person,” said Iris, now 18.
With high school behind her, Seattle University is about to have one new outstanding individual in their next Freshman class.
Camille’s sophomore year of college was completely overturned by leukemia. When most kids were just getting adjusted to life on their own, Camille was participating in CAR T-cell immunotherapy trials after her cancer came back after chemo.
Camille says just because she has a cancer story doesn’t mean she’s any different of a person. She found that through writing, she was able to expand her thoughts and harness her own creativity.
Camille wrote in her blog, The Chronicles of Cam, “ Cancer will make you cynical. Don’t let it. There’s so much more to life. So, what if I lost a bit of muscle mass and weight? So what if I don’t have hair? Those who care don’t matter, and those who matter don’t care. The world is a good place, and there are good people out there to meet. You gotta go through some suffering to truly appreciate real happiness and joy.”
Camille, 23, just graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Colorado State University Global.
Inclusion has always been central for Tara. Tara’s older brother Zain Nadella has cerebral palsy and has been a patient at Seattle Children’s his whole life.
Tara, 18, has fond memories of Seattle Children’s because of the care her brother has always received. Last year, Zain was in the intensive care unit for his birthday, so Tara and her family brought the party to him — taking turns visiting his room and singing.
“From my first taste of onion rings in the cafeteria as a child to understanding how to care for my brother today, this hospital has been a partner on our journey. All children and families deserve the exceptional care we’ve been so fortunate to receive at Seattle Children’s,” Tara said.
Now, Tara’s on her way to college. For this champion of equity, there are no limits.
Celebration for all grads
The teams at Seattle Children’s also helped celebrate the incredible accomplishments of many teens receiving care at the hospital by hosting graduations from their hospital rooms or during appointments.
When Child Life Specialist Betsy DeVenney heard that Cancer Care Patient Ross Tello, 18, who is being treated for a rare sarcoma wasn’t going to have a typical graduation, she formed a plan.
“Ross calls me Bets. He said, ‘Here’s the deal, Bets, you think we could get the nurses to hang out here?’ That gave me a idea.”
“I rounded up the nurses and made a little diploma that Dr. Michelle Ting could present to Ross,” said Betsy. “We wanted to make sure we were standing six feet apart and doing everything safely but we still had to have a celebration.”
Ross, 18, says his next move is to community college for a couple years before heading to a university.
“The graduation was really fun… short and sweet. One thing is important, though. Betsy deserves all the credit. She’s a true homie,” said Ross.
Speech Therapist Rachel Reichow coordinated a celebration on the Rehab unit.
“We had a patient that we worked with long-term that came back to Seattle Children’s for a procedure and graduated this year,” said Taryn Kohno, an educator at Seattle Children’s. “Our education team made a poster for the celebration that was coordinated through the post-anesthesia care unit by Registered Nurse Olwen Bode.”
In a time where graduation ceremonies have safely shifted to being behind masks, glass partitions, and the wheels of honking, cheering cars, the reality is that hard work must be celebrated.
Manager of Educational Services, Scott Hampton said, “I appreciate the teams finding creative ways to really bring joy to these kids regarding their amazing accomplishments.”
Seattle Children’s wants to congratulate all of the graduates of the class of 2020. We are excited – and hopeful – for your future ahead!