Jessica, mother of 2015 Pa. Champion Caden, shares her family experience during the 2015 Champion Ambassador Tour. Every year, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals identifies a child with a remarkable medical story from each state. These “Champions” serve as the face for the millions of children treated at Network hospitals every year. Champions and their families travel to Washington, DC, and Orlando, Fla. on an official Ambassador Tour to highlight the vital work of children’s hospitals.
In early June of this year, my husband Frank and I escorted our son Caden on the first of two trips for the 2015-2016 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion Ambassador Tour. 53 children representing each state plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia traveled together to Atlanta and Washington, DC to raise awareness of the charitable need of children’s hospitals.
Caden was nominated by our beloved Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital to represent all the pediatric patients of Pennsylvania. We were deeply humbled by the honor and excited to participate in this extraordinary opportunity to help CMN Hospitals make more miracles happen.
We had our first opportunity to meet the other Champions and their families in Atlanta. Though each medical journey differed, the undeniable similarities of spending any part of a childhood in a hospital immediately bonded us. Whether our child was treated for a sudden illness or a lifelong condition, we all experienced that initial soul-shattering moment of diagnosis. We had shared the helplessness of placing the care of your child into the hands of others. We had fought unthinkable challenges and were ready to take a celebratory breath together.
Each event during the trip was planned to make the Champions feel special and I was often moved to tears. I was not prepared for the thoughtfulness and appreciation woven into the tour by the incomparable CMN Hospitals staff and the generous sponsors of the Champions program: Delta Air Lines, Marriott International, and Chico’s FAS, Inc.
In Atlanta we received a royal welcome at the Delta Flight Museum followed by a memorable luncheon under a jet. We took an unforgettable charter flight to Washington, D.C. where we visited Capitol Hill and dined in the Hart Senate Office Building. One group of Champions had the opportunity to meet with the Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell and others had meetings with their Senators. One evening, there was a private viewing of Rio 2 complete with concessions and a red carpet arrival area and on another day we returned to our hotel rooms to find a lovely gift collection waiting for the mothers. Much to Caden’s delight, we were joined in both cities by Disney star Zendaya and Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev. If there weren’t photos to prove it, I would hardly believe this trip really happened.
Some Champions, including Caden, also participated in TV and radio interviews at the National Press Club with Miss America. Since donations made to CMN Hospitals stay local, it was simply amazing to hear other Champion stories and how funds made an impact on them. From life-saving equipment to life-supporting programs, these vital services and in turn our Champion’s stories would not have been possible without the support donations given locally to CMN Hospitals. I was in awe watching everyone share this powerful message. What a moving way to end our time together!
Back at home, I miss the Champions and their families and am forever changed by having been in their company. I feel blessed to have this unique network reaching every part of our country and cannot wait for our reunion in Florida for the second leg of our Ambassador Tour. For the health of all the children our Champion represents, we cannot wait to continue highlighting the invaluable work of CMN Hospitals.
The 2015 Champions program is presented by Delta Air Lines, Marriott International and Chico's FAS, Inc.
Images provided by Jessica Capitani and Kirstin Roper Photography