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2017-18 Heroes

2017-18 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals® Heroes

At Children's Miracle Network Hospitals®, a service of Gundersen Medical Foundation, every child served has a story of courage and perseverance. Five of these incredible kids have shared their stories with us. Read their amazing life-affirming stories below.

In many ways they are every bit as brave and resilient as the most daring superhero. Please join us and make a gift to support the future of our heroes. Thank you for helping make miracles happen.

The Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Hero program is presented by 7 Rivers Region Chapter of Credit Unions and Oral Surgery Clinic of La Crosse.

Sophie Bisek

Sophie Bisek

Hometown: La Crosse, Wis.
Diagnosis: Type 1 Diabetes

According to Mandy and Curtis Bisek, their daughter Sophia was healthy until age 5 when they noticed changes they chalked up to a growth spurt.

"She was thirsty all the time, eating more than usual, and using the bathroom often. Our once energetic and happy girl was lethargic and not wanting to play as much," they recall.

At a visit to her pediatrician they learned Sophie had type 1 diabetes. With dangerously high blood sugar, Sophie was immediately admitted to Gundersen Health System. This is when Children's Miracle Network Hospitals first stepped in to help. "They provided food vouchers to keep us fueled during Sophie's hospital stay when the last thing we were thinking about was ourselves," Mandy remembers.

"We spent three days in the hospital where we learned how to care for Sophie—testing her blood sugar, monitoring everything she ate and computing the amount of insulin she needed. The hardest part was giving her insulin shots several times a day. This became our 'new normal,'" says Mandy.

The Biseks quickly realized they couldn't do this alone. But Sophie's team of Gundersen Pediatric Specialty providers, diabetes educators and CMN Hospitals made sure they weren't alone. A year and a half later, when Sophie received an insulin pump to automatically deliver the insulin she needs, CMN Hospitals was there to help with this expense.

"Our 'super Sophie' is handling her diagnosis like a super hero. She grows increasingly independent in managing her diabetes and she doesn't let it get her down," Mandy reports proudly. So like many other kids, Sophie will be off to camp this summer. There she will learn more about living well with her diabetes. CMN Hospitals is again helping with camp and transportation fees.

In addition to swimming and gymnastics, Sophie loves art and music and is learning to play the guitar. With aspirations to be a music teacher, who knows, someday this just might be Sophie's "new normal."

Chloe Burkhalter

Chloe Burkhalter

Hometown: Tomah, Wis.
Diagnosis: Epidural Abscess

A series of cascading health events put 11-year-old Chloe Burkhalter of Tomah, Wis., into a fight for her life on more than one occasion. But she's a fighter who never stays down for long.

It started when Chloe got a fever which spiked at 100.3. Much to the relief of her parents, Heather and Troy, Chloe's fever soon broke. But Chloe was still acting strange—not herself.

Nausea and extreme lethargy on the heels of the fever were signs her body was fighting a nasty infection. The infection spread, escalating into an intracranial epidural abscess—an infection between the skull and the top layer of tissue covering her brain.

"Chloe had emergency surgery at Gundersen Health System to remove the infection and relieve the pressure. When she woke up she had slight Bels Palsy, and needed help from occupational and physical therapy to relearn how to walk, balance, eat and even brush her teeth. We are grateful that Chloe recovered better than anyone could have hoped," say Heather and Troy. "But a few months later we found a lump on Chloe's surgical scar. It was another infection requiring more surgery."

During Chloe's hospital stays, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals helped the family with meal tickets. CMN Hospitals also helped cover the cost for home infusion training after Chloe's second surgery.

Chloe also has an unrelated heart rhythm condition. "So far," say her parents, "it has not caused many complications and is being closely monitored." While her parents are cautiously optimistic, they are also prepared. With support from CMN Hospitals, they have acquired an automatic external defibrillator (AED) to shock her heart back into rhythm in an emergency.

"Chloe has been happy and healthy since the last surgery," report the Burkhalters. She's back to being a kid—listening to music (her favorite song is Chloe, naturally), reading, art and playing with her dogs.

Justus Heise

Justus Heise

Hometown: Hokah, Minn.
Diagnosis: Wilm's Tumor

Justus Heise is 8 years old. For his first three years, he lacked a family to love him and provide for his basic needs. Happily, at the age of 3 he became the foster child of Natalie and Dave Heise of Hokah, Minn. Two years later, they adopted him.

But the emotional scars of those early years run deep leaving Justus with trust issues and debilitating anxiety. That wasn't the only hurdle Justus had to face. "Just a few months after his adoption, we heard the worst thing a parent can hear," recall the Heises, "Justus was diagnosed with cancer."

"When we adopted Justus, we made a commitment to him that we would be his forever family. Cancer is a family disease and we promised him that he would never be alone." Children's Miracle Network Hospitals has also been there for Justus and his family so they never feel alone.

Soon after his diagnosis, Justus had surgery at Gundersen Health System to remove a kidney and biopsy several areas around the tumors. "Justus stayed in the hospital for six days. Whatever we needed, Gundersen staff, child life specialists or CMN Hospitals got it for us," recalls Natalie. "All of our meals were taken care of during our hospital stays and daylong doctor visits. We also received transportation money for our many—sometimes daily—trips to Gundersen."

For the next six months, Justus received radiation treatment and chemotherapy. By June of 2015, there were no signs of cancer. "Justus was very excited to be done with cancer and to get his life back. He was feeling well and happy," recalls Natalie. But less than a year later, cancer had resurfaced. This meant a second surgery, more chemo, more radiation, and more support from CMN Hospitals.

For now, Justus will continue to be a fighter. He loves spending time with family and going to school. When he's at the hospital he enjoys visiting his friends in the security office, and even aspires to be a police officer one day.

"We are so thankful he is ours," say the Heises, "he has taught us so much about what is important in life. His battle is not over but because of him we will continue to fight fiercely."

Blake Oldham

Blake Oldham

Hometown: Black River Falls, Wis.
Diagnosis: NICU, G-tube

Sometimes, small things can have a big impact. Blake Oldham of Black River Falls, Wis. is a prime example. Born less than 1½ pounds and about a foot long, Blake started out life extraordinarily small but now, at age 3, he leaves a big impression on those who meet him.

His parents, Alyssa and Curtis Oldham, describe Blake as resilient. He's had to be after spending the first 89 days of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

It wasn't long after he went home that his family was introduced to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. When the Oldhams sat by Blake's side during a week-long stay in Gundersen Health System's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit due to extreme weight loss, CMN Hospitals was there to help with food voucher and transportation costs.

Blake has also faced an ongoing struggle with low muscle tone, developmental delays, and multiple surgeries to repair hernias and digestive problems. Because of his digestive disorders and an oral aversion, Blake is fed a diet of blended food through a G-tube—a feeding tube placed directly into his stomach. While he takes nothing by mouth, Blake still tastes new things, and like a lot of kids, has a fondness for chips, cheese and ranch flavor.

"To prepare his food every day, we use a Vitamix blender which CMN Hospitals helped us buy," says Alyssa. "They've helped us afford the equipment needed to allow our child the best opportunities to succeed."

Blake is a smart, happy little boy who attends 3K school where he's learning his ABCs. But when he grows up, his ambition is to be a doctor. In his relatively short life, Blake has spent a lot of time around doctors so he knows all about helping people.

Madelyn Payne

Madelyn Payne

Hometown: La Crosse, Wis.
Diagnosis: Medically Complex

"Children like Madelyn require such special care and equipment. As parents we could never afford all she needs on our own. For families who have children with special medical needs, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals® is there to provide the opportunities they deserve. It is very difficult to be on this journey but CMN Hospitals makes it a little easier."

These impassioned words come from Sarah and Greg Payne of La Crosse, Wis. While only 3½ years old, their daughter, Madelyn, has faced a lifetime of complex medical challenges. These include hearing and vision loss, seizures, developmental and mobility delays, immunodeficiency, feeding difficulties, bowel and bladder problems, and an inability to talk.

"CMN Hospitals has helped us with meal vouchers during Madelyn's numerous hospital stays at Gundersen Health System," says Sarah. "They also purchased Madelyn's Tumbleform Feeder Seat. This is used for her feedings. It also allows her to be on the floor and interacting with her younger sister, Ava."

Madelyn's many medical problems are probably a result of a rare, and likely progressive, brain disorder. Madelyn has had many hospital stays and doctor visits, and needs specialized care and adaptive equipment. For all of this the Paynes have had the support of CMN Hospitals.

"One of the most helpful things for us has been respite care funding from CMN Hospitals so we can have licensed care providers when we need to go out," Sarah explains. "They've also helped fund the palliative care appointments that allow us to plan for Madelyn's future."

According to Sarah, Madelyn is happy, easy-going and loves to be with people. Madelyn doesn't talk but she conveys a lot through her smile and laugh, which she shows off the most when listening to music. She can't walk or crawl, but Madelyn loves to be on the move whether swinging, on a bike ride with Dad or on a walk. CMN Hospitals will continue to be there every step of the way.

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