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Medical staff, theater join forces to help cancer patient see ‘Star Wars’

Jan. 21, 2016, 11:01 AM

Leukemia patient Natalie Seale celebrates being able to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at the Regal Green Hills Stadium 16 theater. (photo by Joe Howell)

A Vanderbilt patient who has battled leukemia for nearly five years was granted a private screening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” thanks to her medical providers and a local movie theater.

Like millions of fans worldwide, Natalie Seale, 22, was excited to see the long-anticipated film, but she is unable to be in large crowds due to her weakened immune system.

In April 2011, Seale, then 17, was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), an aggressive blood cancer. She was in remission for 15 months when the leukemia relapsed. She underwent a bone marrow transplant at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt for her high-risk cancer in June 2015.

“After transplant, all of our patients are considered to have very weakened immune systems and must avoid crowds, including going back to school, for several months post-transplant,” said Carrie Kitko, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics and medical director of the Pediatric Stem Cell Transplantation Program. “Unfortunately, I had to tell Natalie I didn’t think it was safe for her to see the movie in a traditional theater setting, but one of our outstanding nurse coordinators took it upon herself to call a local movie theater and see what they could do.”

The nurse, Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant Case Manager Sarah Neumann, R.N., said arranging a private movie showing for Natalie seemed like a great opportunity to help her avoid missing out on something she was so excited to experience.

“Cancer ruthlessly robs our patients of many things we can’t control, so as a nurse, I feel that it is important to help patients maintain as much normalcy in life as possible to provide them with much deserved hope and joy during such a difficult time,” Neumann said. “Natalie is such an inspiration to everyone who meets her. Having dealt with leukemia since she was 17 years old, Natalie has had to miss out on so many life experiences that most of us take for granted, but she refuses to let cancer steal her joy.

“She manages to maintain such an optimistic attitude despite all of the setbacks she has encountered, from having to put her college education on hold to spending birthdays and holidays in the hospital.”

Neumann contacted the manager at Regal Green Hills Stadium 16, which set the wheels in motion.

Regal graciously set aside an entire theater for Seale and 20 of her close friends and family members who could be trusted not to expose her to infections. Those attending the movie with her included her mother, longtime VUMC employee, Terri Seale.

“When I found out that my medical care team was working behind the scenes to set up this event, I was shocked! I couldn’t believe that they would go out of their way to make me feel so special,” Natalie Seale said. “I have been so blessed with the best doctors, nurses and caretakers.”

Seale is currently pursuing her nursing degree with a Spanish minor at Belmont University and said her illness has fueled her desire to be a nurse based on her own experiences in the hospital and clinical setting.

“Hopefully, I can relate to patients and their families on a more personal level and inspire them to conquer their disease,” Seale said.

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