"I love you, Mommy," says Jessica Jaskowiak. "I love you, Jess," says Lynn with a kiss. Jessica suffers from Crouzon syndrome. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Jessica has a new look after undergoing an intricate surgery to move her entire face and forehead forward with the installation of a rigid distraction device, more commonly known as a halo. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Joey Hirl died on the emergency room table at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital. But Harold Moores, MD, refused to give up on him as he and his team performed CPR on Hirl for 57 minutes that night. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Scott Hawkins is kissed by his wife, Danielle. Hawkins is recovering from a severe stroke caused by an aneurysm. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Leah Davidson, 6, wears the crown she gave to Queen Maxima when Dutch King Willem-Alexander and the Queen visited the infusion room at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children's Hospital on June 2, 2015. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Leah high fives Dutch Queen Maxima in the infusion room. (Pool photo)
Alexia Kose, almost 4 months old, is ready to head home from Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. Born at 25 weeks, she has lived her entire life in the hospital's Small Baby Unit and NICU. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Ava Georgia Hamilton—whose name is the second most popular—came into the world Nov. 5, 2015, with her triplet siblings, Makena Leeann and Braxton Jeffrey. Weighing 3 pounds, 1 ounce at birth, Ava was the smallest of the three, said her dad, Michael Hamilton. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Michigan State University head basketball coach Tom Izzo has a laugh with Bailey Olson, 13, during the team-building experience for the entire coaching staff at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Mark Hagbom says he never misses a MSU game. His wife Sally's nickname for him is "Sparty." He's shown here in recovery after a heart attack nearly cost him his life. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Because of her weakened immune system, Lilly Vanden Bosch and her mom will be relatively isolated from friends. She won’t be able to attend school or eat certain foods until a bone marrow transplant restores her immune system. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Joseph Vettukattil, MD, co-director of the Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Congenital Heart Center, holds the 3-D model over the spot where Nicholas Borgman's heart is located inside his body. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Amy Reames plays on swings with her daughter Addison. This past summer the 36-year-old nurse began experiencing symptoms that doctors say were caused by an "electrical malfunction of the heart." (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Kim Carson holds Monte, one of her four cats. Monte is her latest rescue. The radio DJ discovered she had colon cancer after an early colonoscopy. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Gino Lombardo hugs his cardiothoracic surgeon Theodore Boeve, MD, during a pizza party for Spectrum Health staff. Lombardo, known for his Gino's Pizza restaurants, is recovering well and now carries an LVAD (left ventricular assist device). (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Spectrum Health police dog Cain licks Bronson Froster at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Rachel Payne gets a hug from Clinical Support Coordinator Kris Zimmer at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital cancer clinic. In May 2009, at age 20, doctors diagnosed Rachel with diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma in her knee. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Sheila Ann Swartz, left, and Sheri Jo Montag share a sisterly bond they never could have imagined. Unfortunately, the sisters also share a genetic bond that is conducive to cancer. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Blake, 2, and Kennedy Buist, 4, wear vests and masks during one of their twice-a-day respiratory treatments. The children are both fighting cystic fibrosis. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Matt Carrier walks toward Kassie Roon, OT, one of his caregivers at the Spectrum Health Center for Acute Rehabilitation. With his occupational and physical therapy now over, he begins the process of improving on his own with home therapy. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Braylan Blackwell, 4, also known as Captain America, gets a visit from Detroit Red Wings hockey player Justin Abdelkader at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital on Sept. 16, 2015. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Robert Connors, MD, president of Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, right, shares a laugh with his friend Lonson Barr, a retired doctor. Barr holds his granddaughter, Sadie Lee Pegman, and was visiting another grandchild in the hospital. Dr. Connors has created a first-name-basis "Call me Bob" initiative at the children's hospital as a way to promoting teamwork. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
"When he was inside of me (in utero), he didn't pee," Jazir Westerfield's mom, Tammy, said. "It ruptured his kidney. When his kidney ruptured, he was basically only surviving off Mommy. Out of the womb, we didn't think he would survive." (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Ella Kearns, 5, smiles as she hugs Charlie, a miniature therapy horse, in front of Helen DeVos Children's Hospital on June 30, 2015. Charlie's visit was part of summer fun for young patients and families. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Norma Cool, her son Ron, right, and three other sons have been confirmed to have abdominal aortic aneurysms. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Isabelle Bryant wears the halo device designed and placed by Dr. John Polley that moved her upper jaw into the correct position. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Mark Haines shares his experience with HIV and his hopes for the future. He works at the Grand Rapids Red Project as an early intervention specialist where he helps new HIV-positive patients. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Dennis Jager, also known as Santa Claus in the Ludington area, sits in his Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center room with his wife, Gloria, the day after surgery to get a WATCHMAN Left Atrial Appendage Closure Device. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Doug Leland holds his wife, Angela, outside their home near Ionia. "I'm OK with it," Leland says of the upcoming surgery. "Actually it’s been much harder for the family. My wife's a worrier. But we're hoping for the best." (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Spectrum Health’s emergency departments logged 242,000 visits last year, the majority of them at the Michigan Street emergency room in Grand Rapids. About 48 percent of all these visits were possibly avoidable," says Dr. Theresa Osborne, MD, medical director for Spectrum Health Medical Group. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Pulmonologist John Schuen, MD, congratulates Katriona VanDoorne, a 2015 graduate of Grand Haven High School. Katriona, a cystic fibrosis patient would soon be taking the drug Orkambi. The drug "improves key symptoms and targets the underlying cause of CF,” said Shuen. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Dressed like a little St. Nick, Nicholas Viner and his family dropped off hundreds of dollars of donated toys to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Todd Alward heads upstairs in the chair installed in his mother's home. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, has taken his strength but not his smile and good will. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
In 2012 surgeons treated Eric Stimac for melanoma on his neck and back. Biopsies showed clean margins, no metastasis. In 2014 cancer returned as metastatic melanoma. It had found its way into his brain in the form of three tumors. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Autumn Wier is shown with her husband, Jay, and daughter, Jayden, in one of the Center for Acute Rehabilitation therapy rooms. Wier, 26, has almost fully recovered from the stroke she suffered last year that left her paralyzed. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital dietitian Gregory Stacey holds fresh asparagus at the Fulton Street Farmers Market. Stacey has been eating a vegetarian diet for three years. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Four superheroes are seen outside the windows of Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. Spiderman, Batman, Captain America and Iron Man drop in for the hospital's 2015 Halloween party. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Ellianna Knoblock, 4, and her mom smile as the superheroes fly outside the Children's Hospital. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Last December, Brenda Crandall was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 44. (Courtesy photo)
Former Michigan State University basketball star Branden Dawson, now with the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, sits down to visit with Olivia Enderle in the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital dialysis clinic. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Mike Gruszka has traded his Comstock Park High School green for Saginaw Valley State University where his son Ryan plays football. His oldest son, Tyler, also played there. This former football coach had to give up the game while he awaits a heart transplant. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Clockwise from top left, Robert Highley, Rose Black, Paul Skarl and Wlodzimierz Lukasik. The four transplant recipients received their new organs within a 24 hour period. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Vivienne VanSickle, with her mom and dad Amy and Jeff, smiles at Dr. Robert Mann during her visit before palatal surgery. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
You care about people.
That much is clear based on Health Beat’s list of top stories of 2015. Nearly all the stories you chose as the best—by reading and sharing them—were those about real struggles and triumphs.
They are daughters, sons, fathers and mothers. Some have been to the very brink of death, and come back. Others are looking forward to life after lifelong health issues. All have a common bond—sharing their stories to help others overcome their own challenges.
Your top 20 stories of 2015:
Born with Crouzon syndrome, a condition which stunts facial bone growth, Jessica Jaskowiak suffered from bulging eyes, impaired hearing and speech, as well as breathing and chewing difficulties. A lot of that changed this summer as the 11-year-old Illinois girl underwent a six-hour surgery that transformed her life. The results are incredible, and Jessica can’t stop smiling.
Joey Hirl passed through death’s door, then turned around. His doctor and family consider it nothing short of a miracle. After suffering a massive heart attack, a determined ER doctor refused to give up on Joey, performing CPR for 57 minutes. In Joey’s own words: “God truly puts the right people in your path. How do you bring a guy back from the dead? How do you thank somebody for giving you a second chance in life? It’s magical what they did. It’s just a totally amazing story.”
Danielle Hawkins refused to believe that an aneurysm could cease the life she and her husband created. The burst aneurysm caused a severe stroke that put Scott, 37, in a hospital bed on the east side of the state. Doctors told her to let him go, but she would not say goodbye. Teaming up with rehabilitation therapists at Spectrum Health, they proved to the world that love does conquer all.
Kiddos at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to greet a king and queen. They did it in style—curtsies and crowns included. Leah Davidson, Madison Pflug, Lola DeYoung and Miriam Sawka share how they got to sing with a queen and chat with royalty. “It was awesome,” Madison said, her blue eyes gleaming under a magenta knit hat. The video of these children sharing the excitement of the day is beyond priceless.
Born at 25 weeks, Baby Alexia lived her entire life in the hospital’s Small Baby Unit and NICU. “Every day had a new challenge,” her mom said. “You never knew what you were going to face. Or what would be coming.” Exactly 117 days after Baby Alexia’s premature delivery, her family and care team celebrated her homecoming. She made it. They made it.
A “do not disturb” game plan gives moms and babies time out to bond. Stefanie Dyer, who experienced the do-not-disturb initiative when she gave birth to her second son, Abram, said it was a night-and-day difference from when her first son, Ezra, was born. “It’s more streamlined now. I felt a lot more rested with my second child.”
Lindsey and Jeff Czerew were not thinking of the royal family when they chose the name Charlotte Beth for their baby girl. They didn’t even know the name was popular. Born weighing 8 pounds, with lots of brown hair and deep blue eyes, Charlotte joins the ranks of babies with royal and classic names that have made a comeback in recent years. “She might be quite the princess. You never know,” her mom said.
OK, so you can’t go wrong with pictures of Michigan State University head football coach Mark Dantonio holding a NICU baby doll. Perhaps it was this picture, or pictures of children’s hospital patients enjoying time with other MSU coaches, but this story turned out to be quite popular among Spartan fans and non-Spartan fans alike.
Newlywed Mark Hagbom collapsed in his garden after a ‘widow-maker’ heart attack struck. “I thought I’d lost him,” his wife, Sally, said. “He looked beyond help.” But thanks to a quick-acting neighbor and a seamless transition from cath lab to open heart surgery, the couple is grateful to still be able to dream of their future, together.
The special package, flown in express from Europe, is a ‘bag of life’ for Lilly who’s undergoing a bone marrow transplant thanks to a stranger’s heartfelt donation. In this special Health Beat series, Lilly takes us through her journey as a way of promoting the gift of life.
Car seats and boosters can save lives. Just ask this family–Ben and Janna Smith and kids Olivia, Blake and Evan. The Smith family wants you to know what can happen when you least expect it, and how to walk away with a smile.
‘It’s just amazing what they can do nowadays,’ Nicholas Borgman mused while gazing at a 3-D version of his heart. Doctors used the precise model to visualize and plan a surgery that would correct a heart condition Nicholas has had since birth. “We are engineering for life,” his interventional cardiologist, Joseph Vettukattil, MD, said.
Age 36, married and mother of two, Amy Reames was in a good place. And then her heart shut down. “Being so close to not being around anymore, it definitely gives you more appreciation for what you have and the people you have in your life,” she said. “I don’t want to miss out on anything now.”
An early colonoscopy led to a life-changing discovery for DJ Kim Carson. ‘It changed my life,” she said. “It made me realize I don’t have unlimited time on this earth and if there’s something you want to do, you better do it now.’
Gino Lombardo, a longtime pizza maker, shares the secret sauce of life and recovery after open heart surgery. Heart failure led to a surgery that gives Gino back his quality of life while awaiting a heart transplant. “I’m just glad to be here today in no pain, and happy that I can actually walk and move around again,” he said, a smile evident in watery eyes.
Jeff and Amanda Miles saw their 6-pound 13-ounce baby boy as nothing short of a miracle, even if they knew straight away the little guy’s introduction to life was destined for struggle. Before he was born, doctors detected a defect in Jackson’s tiny heart. Then came delivery, and news of more challenges. Together, with the help of a team the couple came to know as family, they made it through.
These Spectrum Health police dogs make their rounds every day, coaxing smiles and bringing joy to patients, staff and visitors of all ages. Their job is to be lovable, but also to stand guard. This special series of stories showcase the joy these dogs bring to everyone they encounter.
Rachel Payne, a competing gymnast, couldn’t imagine why she was in pain. “None of us thought ‘cancer,’” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m getting old. I’m not 12 anymore, and I can’t do these flips.’ … You never hear of people who have cancer just in the knee or who get cancer when they’re 20.” But there it was. The diagnosis.
As Sheri Jo Montag’s family set out to help her win her cancer battle, her sister, Sheila Ann Swartz, discovered she, too, had breast cancer. They’re with one another every step of their journeys. “This experience has brought us together more like sisters,” Sheri said.
Two of the three Buist children suffer from cystic fibrosis. But they don’t let that stop them from dreaming big dreams. “I think Kennedy and Blake don’t feel so alone because they can do treatments and medications together,” their mom, Elizabeth, says. “They encourage each other and support each other.”
Wondering what other stories rounded out the top 50? Here you go: