Amber is the mother of Nathan Ferrell, our 2014 Champion representing the state of Florida. Below, she speaks to Nathan's experiences as a Champion Ambassador and their family's account of joining him for the 2014 Champions Amabassador Tour. (Pictures by Kirstin Roper Photography)
At the beginning of the year, my 6-year-old son, Nathan, was chosen to be the 2014 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Champion for the state of Florida. It was an incredible honor to be nominated by University of Florida Health Shands Children’s Hospital, and it was quite humbling knowing that in this role he would serve as the ambassador for all pediatric patients who visit the numerous CMN Hospitals in our state. I have to admit, we had a lot of fun traveling around Florida attending fundraisers, telling Nate's story, and showing our gratitude to the many organizations that support this cause that is so dear to our hearts.
The yearlong ambassadorship culminated in a tour through Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Fla., and was unlike anything we have ever experienced. We are not the same people we were before participating in the Champions Tour; it changed our life in many ways.
Thanks to the astounding sponsorship of Delta Air Lines, Marriott International and Chico's FAS, a Champion from each state and each Canadian province were given the opportunity to share their stories while being honored for their remarkable medical journeys. Accompanied by their National Goodwill Ambassador, Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev, the U.S. Champions met with state legislators in Washington, D.C. to discuss the charitable needs of children’s hospitals. They raised awareness for CMN Hospitals during a visit with First Lady Michelle Obama and the First Dogs, had lunch in the Dirksen Senate Hearing Room, explored the U.S, Capitol and paid their respects at Arlington National Cemetery during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
While the tour’s primary purpose was to highlight the vital work of children’s hospitals, it also offers its share of “fun” for Champions and their families.
From a movie night hosted by Fox Home Entertainment at the J.W. Marriott to the Delta chartered flight, to a Gifting Suite hosted by Chico’s FAS to pamper moms, the trip was chocked full of many special moments. Emotions ran high during the Medal Ceremony with Nick Cannon, Miss America, and Delta executives, as each Champion was honored, as well as during the Disney character dinner and a personal concert by Lady Antebellum, in which Champions joined the group on stage for a couple of songs.
If that wasn't enough, the trip concluded with a magical day at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, where the Champions participated in the Move It, Shake It, Dance and Play It Street Party, served as the grand marshals of the Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade and finished out the night enjoying the ever popular Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.
So, when you read the above paragraphs, you can totally understand why I say it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. But what makes it a "life-changing" trip?
Well, that would be the Champions; these children are the definition of the word in every sense, each and every one of them. They have defied odds, proven medical odds wrong, and fought through treatments, trials, heartache, pain and pure exhaustion with every fiber of their being. They have done so with grace, resilience, and an incredibly positive attitude that inspires everyone who is privileged to cross their paths. And what do they want to do in their free time? They help other kids in need by bringing much needed awareness and funds to our CMN Hospitals. All of this is what makes each one of them the epitome of a Champion.
And the families behind these Champions: I looked into their eyes and instantly saw a reflection of our own journey. Each of us has been on a similar, yet different, path. I saw their worry, their fear, their hearts that have been broken and mended a hundred times. I saw their joy, their wonder, their delight in seeing how much their Champion has accomplished. Without words, their eyes told stories of the nights they lay wide awake worried about the future, the times they crouched in a shower to sob because no one could hear them there, the internal pain they felt when their child was looked at differently or the tinge of jealousy that erupted from watching the complete normalcy of friends’ lives.
But in the midst of the struggles that lay deep in the eyes of our new friends, their pain was overshadowed by the intense joy they felt each time they were able to hug their child. We saw elation in watching them experience so many amazing opportunities in the span of a week. We saw overwhelming love and emotion well up in each parent as they sat back and watched 54 children who have met various challenges throughout their lives all meet, connect, and instantly become best friends — for life — forever. All because of CMN Hospitals.
So when I say that we are not the same as we were before this trip, it is because of each of these Champions, families and individuals. All together, we created ONE family: the #Champions14 family. Being home, back to reality, has been much harder than I ever imagined. I feel like pieces of our hearts reside in every single state in our country now. But in the end, I am grateful that we know precious people all across our nation who share our desire to further the momentum of CMN Hospitals.
We are #Champions14 forever.