September 16, 2005

Children’s Hospital patient a ‘champion’

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Katie Vacanti-Mitchell, 13, is the Tennessee representative for the 2006 Children's Miracle Network's Champions Across America program.
photo by Dana Johnson

Children’s Hospital patient a ‘champion’

Anyone who knows 13-year-old Katie Vacanti-Mitchell will tell you that she is a champion. Now, that title is official: Katie was named the Tennessee representative for the 2006 Children's Miracle Network's Champions Across America program.

In her new role, Katie and the other “champions” will act as ambassadors for the millions of children who have undergone hospitalization and treatment in children's hospitals across the United States and Canada.

“Having a patient from our hospital named as the state representative for Champions Across America is a huge honor” said Jessica King-Bernard, CMN director for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“This is the first time a Vanderbilt patient has been chosen to represent the state, and I am so proud to have the opportunity to work with Katie and her family at this exciting time.”

Katie is being treated for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) at Children's Hospital. She was diagnosed in May 2004. Between chemotherapy, spinal taps, blood infusions and all the discomfort that follows a rigorous treatment plan for a life-threatening illness, Katie set up a fund through Children's Hospital called Katie's Helping Hand.

"I was raised that in your worst moments, you help other people," Katie said, "because there's always going to be somebody else out there that has it worse than you."

The fund helps cancer patients and their families being treated here pay for incidentals like long-distance calls, meals and gasoline.

In its first year, the fund has raised more than $16,000. Now that her fund is up and running so successfully, Katie hopes to raise even more money to benefit all patients at Children's Hospital.

“It's not just stressful for parents who have kids with cancer, there's other diseases that could be a whole lot worse,” Katie said.

Acts of goodwill aren't unusual for Katie. Ironically, before she was diagnosed with ALL, Katie had been growing her auburn hair out to donate to a child with cancer. When her treatments began, she had her hair cut short so she could proceed with the donation, dismissing every suggestion that she could have the hair made into a wig for herself.

As a CMN Champion, Katie will travel to the annual CMN Celebration in Orlando in the spring to represent her home state, take part in tapings for the national CMN telethon and visit Walt Disney World.

She will also travel with the group to Washington, D.C., to have lunch at the White House, and will possibly have the opportunity to meet President Bush. Katie said she hopes she will be able to tell the President all about her charity.

“Going to eat lunch at the White House will be so exciting,” Katie said.