MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – The 23rd annual Claire Daily-Stafinbil Young Heroes Award Ceremony at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., gave many military families good reason to be up and in their finest attire on a Saturday morning. May 6, to be exact.
As an introduction for the ceremony that was hosted by the Department of Pediatrics and sponsored and supported by the Madigan Foundation, Madigan Commander Col. (Dr.) Jonathan Craig Taylor thanked everyone in attendance and voiced a frequent theme – gratitude.
“It is an honor for us to be a part of your lives,” he said to the kids and their families.
You’ll understand that better once you meet some of these young heroes.
Everyone knows a kid who is smart, precocious or a little wild. When you stuff all that greatness into a small body that does not want to behave like the bodies of most people, you’ve got a good start on one of our heroes.
Now, take that kid, and all they have to go through to keep their bodies working right, and move them all around the globe following mom or dad’s assignments.
Add to this equation loads of smiles and hugs, big life goals, tons of resiliency, subtract just about all complaining, and you just might have one of the dozen-plus young heroes Madigan had the chance to celebrate.
“Today is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the successes and resiliency despite the day-to-day challenges they face in their unique diagnoses,” said master of ceremonies and pediatrics resident physician Capt. (Dr.) Erica MartinezBucki.
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Kate Liesemer, the chief of the Department of Pediatrics, and Command Sgt. Maj. Blake Wise, the senior enlisted advisor for Madigan Troop Battalion, joined Taylor in handing out medals and certificates to this year’s honorees.
As each child stood or sat on the stage in Letterman Auditorium with their families, the crowd offered enthusiastic applause as the presenter, who was usually a doctor or nurse who has worked with the child and their family over time, gave some details on the hero’s life.
The most common refrain from those who have nominated the kids is that they don’t complain. They move through the challenges life gives them with grace and dignity. And a whole lot of grit.
One doctor pushed their patient to complain about something each time they talked. Usually, she noted, the complaint was that she was making them complain. But she continued in her attempts to make sure her patient knew it was alright to not always feel alright, and to say so.
Courage is not something any of these kids lacks, no matter what.
Aurora Torres was nominated by Lt. Col. (Dr.) Angela Bryan, a pediatric rheumatologist, and had her award presented by Jennifer Sweet, Pediatric Specialty Clinic licensed clinical social worker.
Reading Bryan’s nomination, Sweet said Aurora “Persevered through her initial diagnostic process and then slow treatment recovery process with unwavering maturity,” also noting that, “She represents everything this ceremony is meant to honor.”
Ayden Lopez was recognized by Capt. (Dr.) Josh Strait, an Air Force developmental behavioral pediatric fellow at Madigan.
Seven-year-old Ayden was held by his dad on stage as Strait talked of working with him.
“Any one of us practitioners who are privileged to be a touch point for Ayden can attest to his resilience. When I first met Ayden, and he quickly taught me that a true hero is not someone defined by what happens to them or by any diagnostic labels,” said Strait, “He is a wonderful and inspiring young soul who continues to teach us the power of love, resilience and gratitude.”
Also seven, Cora Collins shared her sweet smile as she displayed long ponytails. Dr. Dawn Peredo, a developmental pediatrician, presented her award.
Cora is part of a big family that is engaged in many activities.
“Her family is so proud of her strength, willingness to try new things and resilience,” reported Peredo. “She has recently started playing the piano and loves to draw. She's even written and published her own fantasy storybook, complete with illustrations.”
Ian O’Neal was nominated by Col. (Dr., retired) Jason Caboot, a pediatric rheumatologist, and MartinezBucki.
Choosing to use his middle name – Danger – as his moniker, he likes to live life to the fullest.
“You really are a hero,” said MartinezBucki. “Not just because you love bacon more than anyone I have ever met. But, more importantly because you spread positivity and warmth, and your strength makes you a hero.”
Jada Cooper was recognized by Maj. (Dr.) Timothy Gall, a pediatric neurologist.
Jada is a young woman with a high-wattage smile that she shares easily. Gall noted that she serves as a role model. She volunteers with an organization that helps kids with special needs play sports.
She also pursues her passion for dance and is the vice president of her class.
Jashmier Valino is no stranger to Madigan events. Having helped the commander light the Christmas tree and Menorah this past holiday season, her smiling face and supportive family are familiar at Madigan.
Jashmier brought a big family that readily shared smiles, laughter and support as Capt. (Dr.) Daniel Glenn, a pediatrics resident.
“She's an extraordinary child with more emotional maturity and intelligence than I could ever hope for myself,” Glenn said of Jashmier.
Jeffrey Bradshaw, a 13-year-old with a winning smile, was nominated by Kirstin Vanhoute, a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse and presented his award by Lt. Col. (Dr.) Luke Lindley, an adolescent medicine physician.
“Jeffrey is always polite and engaging with staff. He is friendly and always really brave and cooperative with his IV placements and other procedures. He is kind and helpful with his younger brother, respectful to his mother, and I see him putting others first even when I know he is in pain. He is a great conversationalist, and I always enjoy seeing him come into the clinic,” Lindley said.
Mathias Bradley is one of a set of twins to be recognized by Col. (Dr.) Matthew Heisel, a pediatric gastroenterologist.
“Every time he came into the clinic or hospital, he always had a smile on his face and was optimistic that he would feel better soon,” Heisel said of Mathias.
Heisel went on to report that Mathias is responding to treatment and has been able to get back to participating in multiple sports.
Gabriel Bradley, twin number two, also an avid athlete, was not in attendance. Standing close to Mathias on the stage, their mother shared that Gabriel was absent because he is feeling well enough to be competing in a track meet. Her joy at this spurred the audience to applaud him all the louder.
“Gabriel has been a shining example to his brother of what kids with IBD [inflammatory bowel disease] can achieve in spite of their illness,” said Heisel.
Emily Armstrong is an 18-year-old who was nominated by Laura Ragil, a pediatric specialty nurse.
Emily has been busy this year with both the challenges of losing a grandmother and having her father deployed as well as the opportunities of taking college courses while still in high school in the Running Start program.
“I think she does an amazing job. Every time I see her, she's smiling; she's genuine,” said Ragil.
Amaris Ward is a high school senior who could not attend the ceremony because she was playing in a championship soccer game. She works part-time, takes college courses and plans to attend the University of Nevada at Las Vegas next fall to study social work.
“Amaris Ward is an amazing, independent and resilient woman,” said her nominator, Dr. Georgina Ponce DeLeon, a Madigan pediatrician. “I am impressed with her strength and perseverance, her communication skills and her ability to advocate for herself.”
Ethan Black is another of Maj. Timothy Gall’s patients who impresses him every chance possible.
“Ethan is actually one of my brightest patients and he has the testing scores to prove it. He also lives life to the fullest,” said Gall of Ethan, pointing out why people shouldn’t fall prey to the stereotype that those with slower processing speeds are not intelligent. Gall knows that Ethan is not only intelligent but wise as well.
“Even though Ethan finds math exhausting, it takes him much longer to do than most of us, he is actually going to go to college next year to study science,” said Gall, proving an earlier point that Ethan has impressive amounts of resilience and perseverance.
Representing the Madigan Foundation, Rachanee Curry, the Foundation’s former president, was on hand to give out the Sandra Green Scholarship to two worthy young heroes.
Adopting the Young Heroes program not long after its inception at Madigan, the Madigan Foundation is in its 20th year supporting the program, and many years in with awarding renewable scholarships for post-secondary education.
“This is one of the favorite programs that we have, not only to recognize the young heroes and the staff and recognize the exceptional care and clinical expertise that we have here to support our families and servicemembers here in the JBLM community,” said Curry of Foundation’s interest in Madigan and its young patients.
Sweet returned to the podium to introduce Peter Bledsoe Smith.
Born extremely premature at 26 weeks gestational age, Peter has demonstrated his strong spirit since day one, noted Sweet.
“This positive determination has brought him to a senior year in high school and his plan to attend Pierce College. He is pursuing a very well-rounded education to enable him to be a patient liaison,” Sweet continued.
She quoted Peter saying, “I hope to mitigate feelings of alienation and bridge the gap between patients and healthcare providers.”
Standing in for Bryan, Sweet also presented Roseshel “Ellie” Mock her scholarship.
“She advocates for her own medical and mental health in a mature manner beyond her years. She is a superstar at school, planning to study human health sciences and is heavily involved in martial arts,” said Sweet of Ellie.
Closing out the ceremony was a slideshow created by Jim Peredo that was jam-packed with photographs that caught the charm, wit and warmth of each of the young heroes.
Liesemer offered closing remarks of gratitude, thanking all who came together to celebrate Madigan’s young heroes.
“Of paramount importance though, is the recognition of, and a heartfelt thank you to every single one of our young heroes and heroines, their family, their friends and everybody who's here in attendance today to celebrate them. We thank you very much,” she said.
The young heroes and their families took turns standing to be recognized with much deserved and hearty applause.