By: Adele Harris, Gillette patient mom
Earlier this year, we were so honored when our girls, Kaeli, 12 years old, and Lily, 8 years old, were asked to be Minnesota’s, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare ambassador champions for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Champions Across America program. Every state is represented by a child, or siblings that are treated at a CMN Hospital. The champions program brings together every state’s representative and their family, first to Disney World, then to Washington D.C. There, the champions are recognized for their continuing medical fight, meet with sponsors, advocate for their hospital, have fun sightseeing, and meeting and networking with other families that are going through similar experiences.
Our trip started Oct. 8th. We woke up bright and early, and as soon as we arrived at the MSP airport, our VIP treatment started by Delta, who was one of the main sponsors of the champions trip. A Delta employee escorted us to the front of the security line, then directly to our plane.
When we landed in Orlando, the girls received an ovation on the plane after the flight attendants announced them. Then, when we got off the plane, a huge crowd of Delta and CMN Hospitals employees were waiting for us at the gate with balloons, cheering our arrival. We were once again escorted through the airport, our baggage was handled, and the VIP treatment continued! This was only the beginning of 10 days of being spoiled.
Our time in Disney World was fantastic. We spent some time at the parks, but the most fun was at the CMN Hospitals planned events. The highlight of the trip for me as a mom, was the medal ceremony, which thousands of people attended, and every champion was acknowledged. The ceremony was hosted by Nick Cannon, who was joined onstage by Miss America, Zendaya, Marie Osmond, and John Schneider. All these kids, most of whom have gone through something life threatening, all got their individual turn to come out onstage, smiling, waving, doing a little dance, and then receiving a medal for going through all they have gone through. Seeing Kaeli push Lily out on the stage was such an emotional moment, remembering all the things both my girls have gone through. Hearing and seeing the standing ovation the girls received, was such a proud moment for me.
Our time in Disney World, also included, media appearances, VIP seating for parades, lunches and dinners with all the families, a mom’s suite sponsored by Chico’s FAS, and a pin exchange with sponsors, where the kids and sponsors get to meet each other one on one .
After our time at Disney, we were taken on a private charter provided again by Delta. Before boarding the plane, we were taken directly onto the tarmac, where we went through security, and met the pilots and flight attendants. A high school band provided music, and of course, there was another cheering reception!
Our time in D.C. was a bit slower paced than originally planned because of the shutdown. We all made the best of it though. We had family come visit us, so some of our canceled events meant more visiting time with them.
We were still able to do some of our scheduled events, including individual and group photos in front of the U.S. Capitol, lunches, a wonderful wreath laying experience at The Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery, and a fancy 3 hour dinner cruise on the Potomac River. This was another big highlight! It was a gorgeous night out on deck of the boat, but inside there was yummy food and a big dance party. This night was one of my favorites from the trip.
Our final day brought the biggest thrill! We were able to go to the White House for a meet and greet and photo with President Obama! We were on the South Lawn which is directly across from the Elipse and the Washington Monument. The President said some very nice things about how much our kids have gone through, and how it puts things in perspective for him when he has a bad day. He then took a few cute questions from the kids about a bowling alley and hot tub in the White House. The visit with the President was pretty quick, because this was the day the shutdown ended and he was needed elsewhere. I think for all families, no matter which side of the aisle they are on, meeting the president on the White House lawn is something none of us will forget!
I can’t thank enough, Gillette, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and all the sponsors that made this possible! It was so nice to forget all worries with doctor’s, paperwork, phone calls, etc…and just be pampered for a week and a half. We are so grateful for the whole experience and for the opportunity to meet other families who understand and are going through similar medical experiences. The VIP treatment will never be forgotten. My girls have memories that will last a lifetime.