Your top health stories of 2015

From inspirational to informational, Health Beat delivers you a daily dose of stories you don’t want to miss. Here are the best of the best.

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:

1. Jessica, 11, undergoes transformation

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.

2. Life after death

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.”

3. ‘They told me to let him go’

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.

4. See who met the Dutch royals

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.

5. ‘A little fighter’ goes home from the NICU

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.

6. Mom, babies enjoy quiet time

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.”

7. Royal baby name makes a comeback

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.

8. MSU coaches play doctors for the day

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.

9. ‘His time is not finished on this earth’

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.

10. Lilly’s rebellion

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.

11. Once upon an accident

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.

12. Holding his heart in his hands

‘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.

13. ‘I don’t want to miss out on anything’

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.”

14. DJ Kim Carson spins a different tune with colon cancer

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.’

15. Heart patient delivers on promise

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.

16. The littlest fighter

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.

17. Day in the life of Cain

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.

18. Cancer: A life-changing diagnosis

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.

19. High-risk sisterhood

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.

20. Siblings tackle cystic fibrosis

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:

21. ‘Let’s do this’ attitude bolsters young stroke victim’s recovery

22. Red Wings players ‘make all the difference in the world’

23. ‘I didn’t know they were dangerous’

24. Just call him Bob. Really.

25. ‘We didn’t think he would survive’

26. Small horse, big smiles

27. Sojourning for surgeries

28. ‘I’m going to live each day until the day I die’

29. Spectrum saves Santa

30. Former coach calls the play on prostate treatment

31. Is your office chair trying to kill you?

32. Emergency, urgent or primary?

33. The jubilant pulmonologist

34. Little St. Nicholas gives gifts of the heart

35. Day in the life of Rex

36. When in doubt: Call us first

37. Soda pop impacts more than just waistlines

38. ‘I’m going to keep enjoying life as long as I can’

39. Melanoma versus the molecular mob

40. Top 10 dangers for kids

41. Young mom battles back from paralysis

42. 10 things you should know about swimmer’s itch

43. 10 reasons to go vegetarian

44. Caped crusaders captivate kids

45. ‘It’s a cancer that whispers’

46. Do you get enough vitamin D?

47. Slam dunk smiles

48. Football coach seeks heart transplant

49. 4 transplants, 24 hours

50. ‘God knit her together’

Do you have a story to share? Tell us about it. Thanks to all of our Health Beat readers for making Health Beat such a success in its first year. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our weekly and monthly e-news and bookmark us on your desktop or cell phone so you can stay up to date on all the great health news you can use. Best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and happy 2016!

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