Teen cancer survivor a finalist for exclusive Medal of Honor Society awardMar. 24, 2008, 8:39 AM
Although she’s just 15, Katlyn Vacanti-Mitchell has already battled leukemia and started her own foundation to help families with sick children at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Now she’s earned a remarkable new honor: Katie is one of 51 finalists for the first Above & Beyond Citizen Honors, which recognize Americans who have shown extraordinary courage and selflessness.
The award is presented by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, arguably the most exclusive organization in the United States. While 40 million Americans have faced combat, fewer than 3,500 have been awarded the Medal of Honor, given for valor in action against an enemy force. There are currently just 107 surviving members of the Society.
While undergoing 2½ years of chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital, Katie met families who had difficulty keeping up with the costs of living away from home for days and weeks at a time. Katie realized how fortunate she was to live in nearby Brentwood, Tenn.
Determined to make a difference, she started Katie’s Helping Hand, which lets parents order meals from a menu in their child’s hospital room. The meal is delivered to the room, and the flat $5 cost is billed directly to Katie’s Helping Hand. The fund also provides gasoline and phone cards for the families.
Donations to Katie’s Helping Hand recently hit an amazing milestone. So far Katie has raised $100,000 to help other families. And she recently expanded the program to a second hospital, Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
These accomplishments led to Katie’s nomination for the Above and Beyond Citizen Honors, and her selection as Tennessee’s finalist.
“Honestly, I was shocked to be chosen,” Katie said. “I feel incredibly honored.” She has read the stories of the other finalists on www.aboveandbeyond365.com, and is overwhelmed to be included among them. “They’re incredible people. Just incredible,” she said.
Three overall winners will be chosen Tuesday, March 25, from the finalists, which come from each state and the District of Columbia. Coverage of the award will air on NBC’s Today Show and NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams.
“Katlyn has overcome challenges and demonstrated strength that sets an example for all Tennesseans,” said Governor Phil Bredesen. “Beyond that, the success she has achieved in establishing and growing Katie’s Helping Hand is remarkable. I am very pleased to see Katlyn receive this honor and proud to have a young person of her caliber representing Tennessee.”
“These remarkable citizens stand to remind each and every one of us that for Americans, anything is possible,” the society declared.
“The thousands of nominees prove that we have among us heroes in the most fundamental meaning of the term.Wonderful Americans who because of confluence of time, circumstances and events, choose to challenge fate or reality as they understand it to be, and literally change the world. We are humbled by their deeds and their commitment to service before self,” says Col.Bob Howard, President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society of the United States.