Check out the top Health Beat stories of the year.
The Health Beat images in this photo gallery represent the top 50 stories that captured your attention and tugged at your heartstrings. We're humbled and honored to document the inspiring journeys of people who want to help others by sharing their personal stories. They're changing lives.
Rylie Whitten surprised her parents with the speed of her recovery. She began a fight for her life when toxic shock syndrome caused multiple organs to fail. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Benny and Elise Boes refused to let his brain cancer diagnosis define them. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Evelise Greene gets skin-to-skin time with her newborn daughter, Claire, moments after her cesarean section birth. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Ethan DeHoek, 3, was born prematurely at 28 weeks with severe complications. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Anna Weeber, a wife and soon-to-be mother of two reflects on her recovery from a ruptured brain aneurysm. "It was a blessing," she said. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Craig Alguire, MD, made the switch from doctor to cancer patient when he was diagnosed and treated for a tumor that had taken hold in his brain. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Born five weeks premature and with a severe congenital heart defect, Elijah had been given zero chance of survival by doctors in Atlanta. And then the family met the Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children's Hospital congenital heart team. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
"Last year we were in the hospital for 50 days," said Lilly Vanden Bosch's mom, Meg. "We were there for Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year." (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Jonathan Koster was born with hemifacial microsomia, a birth defect in which the lower half of one side of the face is underdeveloped. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Khalique Vialva's doctors say he is a positive role model for others facing adversity. Or cancer. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Dayle Wood was dead on the gym floor of Aquinas College for three minutes during a volleyball practice of her freshman year. Her quick-to-react teammates, trainer, and a nearby AED machine saved her life. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Kenzie Bennett was diagnosed with Megalencephaly-capillary malformation syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes parts of the body to grow faster than others. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
The work of pediatric oncologist David Dickens, MD, and Aditi Bagchi, MD, a fellow in pediatric oncology and a graduate student researcher, has led to the discovery of a new mutation in a cancer-causing gene. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
With no warning, Peter Lombardo suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed in the gym at Caledonia High School. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Naomi Wilke has spent most of her childhood growing up and playing in the clear blue water of Torch Lake. When a blood test revealed she had two types of leukemia, she had to trade her Northern Michigan home for a hospital room in Grand Rapids. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
The transformation of Diraj Lackan began one day in his village in Guyana, a place of palm trees, colorful houses and tropical heat. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Fourteen-month-old Sloane Alway of Scottville, Michigan, is pictured in the emergency department at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital moments before she was flown to Grand Rapids. (Photo courtesy of Rob Alway)
Maddie Pagel, 5, has fought cancer nearly her entire life. When she was 4 months old, doctors discovered she had an extremely rare brain tumor called choroid plexus carcinoma. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Tyler Jaenicke's cardiomyopathy had responded to medicine for five years. But earlier this year, the 22-year-old's heart was failing and he needed a transplant. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
The mother-daughter duo of Carole Baker and Hollie Rademacher have become regulars at the gym. They know the value of physical activity and exercise. (Katy Batdorff | Spectrum Health Beat)
Julie and John VanderMolen welcomed identical triplet sons, from left, Ivan John, 4 pounds, 7 ounces, Harrison Kenneth, 3 pounds, 15 ounces, and Lloyd William, 5 pounds. Each has a full head of hair. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Amber Ciesielski, 32, nearly died from cardiac arrest in July of this year. Her husband, Brandon, performed CPR for 18 minutes before paramedics could arrive. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
College student Hannah Pohlman gets a hug from Deanna Mitchell, MD, one of the doctors treating Hannah as she recovers from surgery and a fight with osteosarcoma. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
"Cancer is not a journey I would have chosen," Steve Johnson said. "However, the results of walking this pathway are ever positive. Each journey is an opportunity to learn and to live fully." Bev, his wife for 39 years, travels with Johnson along the journey. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Travarius Burton spent the first eight months of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Tim Hollern, a husband, a father of three, and an assistant principal at Forest Hills Eastern High School, lives day to day to its fullest. Living with cancer has made him realize that tomorrow is not promised. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Pediatric plastic surgeon John Polley, MD, hugs Kiden Kee after she presented him with a tin of homemade cupcakes. "You know my weakness," he said. He praises Kiden's strength and resilience through operations and recovery. "I'm really proud of you," he says. "You've done fantastic." (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Anya Bentham has battled neuroblastoma, a cancer of the central nervous system, for most of her short life. Her parents brought Anya from the United Kingdom to Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children's Hospital to participate in Dr. Giselle Sholler's clinical trial. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
At a young age of 16, Maddie Tomasko can say she has done many things. One being that she has survived relapse acute myeloid leukemia and undergone two blood marrow transplants. The other being able to say that she has met both donors in person. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Jake Rodgers was an ordinary kind of 16—he loved skateboarding, playing guitar and hanging with his friends. On Dec. 23, 2014, he was struck by a car as he crossed the street. The resulting traumatic brain injury changed his life. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Ashley Kimble gets prepped for surgery before a laparoscopic procedure to check for endometriosis and any other abnormal issues that could be affecting her fertility. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Marvin Vandermolen was the first "heart in a box" transplant recipient in Michigan. "I was on board from the get-go," he said. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Acacia Walter-Rooks is ready to resume her life as a busy teenager. But first, her body must accept the kidney from donor Beth Hill. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Dave Jones, 56, had been making a remarkable recovery from his first stroke, but then a series of debilitating strokes stopped everything in its tracks. Jones couldn't move or speak. His doctor recommended he live out his days in a residential care facility. He and his wife thought otherwise. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
James Ritchie, 74, overcame the condition Barrett's esophagus and ultimately avoided esophageal cancer, a disease that has rapidly increased in the U.S. during the past 30 years. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Doctors discovered a tumor mass in Austin Craymer's chest. Cancer was also in his kidneys. "We were basically told this is an all-out war on cancer," his dad, Kirk, said. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Angela Maurer survived a serious car crash that fractured her neck and shattered the left side of her pelvis. One of her goals as she recovered was to run again. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Lola Deyoung, 10, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 5. She has suffered two central nervous system relapses, the second coming right around the time she met the Dutch King and Queen at Spectrum Health's Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in June 2015. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Todd Alward was diagnosed with ALS more than three years ago. His muscles are growing weaker, his arms, legs and waistline, thinner. His mother, June, is his main caregiver. But he is steadfast in his resolve to keep on smiling. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Music therapist Bridget Sova records the sound of Levi Dekker's heart, using a modified stethoscope. The rhythmic beating of his heart will become a heartbeat-to-music recording. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Drew Garcia doesn't remember being hit by a car as he walked across U.S. 31 in Holland, Michigan. He also doesn't remember the surgery to amputate his damaged leg. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Lana and Bill Van Alstine are hopeful the heart procedure she underwent, called an ablation, will open the door to a full and active summer with their five grandsons. And they hope it will usher in a long period of a normal heart rate. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Batman visits with Connor Weston, 5, in the ICU. Connor suffered a head injury in a car accident. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Herb Carpenter looks at an implantable pacemaker like the one he will have. Cardiologist Andre Gauri, MD, calls the tiny device "truly revolutionary." (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Tammy and Tony Corona survived traumatic brain injuries before they met in 1997. They married in 1999. Three years ago, Tony suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to care for himself. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Over 1,000 toys were donated to Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in honor of 3-year-old MaKenna Fraaza who lost her life. "It has been very difficult trying to adjust to a new life without MaKenna," her mother, Tammi explained. "But it is comforting to know that she has touched so many lives and will continue to do so." (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Melissa Seide's leg was crushed during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Healing the Children brought Melissa from her home near Port au Prince, Haiti, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for medical care. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Lainey Gibson Havenga is shown in Spectrum Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. Lainey frightened her parents when she consumed one of her grandfather's pills she found on the floor. It looked like candy, but it didn't taste like it, she told her mother, who rushed her to the hospital for monitoring. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Jeremiah Johns, MD, who works in the emergency department at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital and Zeeland Community Hospital, invented the ED Voice Commands system, a series of dictation templates that can be used with existing dictation software to speed up the process of entering electronic medical records. (Taylor Ballek | Spectrum Health Beat)
Morrie Boogaart, 91, has cancer and is in hospice care. But he doesn't spend his time thinking about dying. He knits hats nearly nonstop for people who need them. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
These themes run strong through all the stories that made Health Beat’s 2016 top 50 list.
You, dear reader, decided which stories became the best of the best. How? By reading, liking, commenting and sharing them with loved ones.
They captured your attention and tugged at your heartstrings. Sometimes you laughed, sometimes you cried, and mostly you cheered on daughters, sons, fathers and mothers as they tackled real-life struggles. You rejoiced in their heroic triumphs.
And because you spread the good word about Health Beat, many of these stories reached the right folks at the right time. They sought care for themselves or their loved ones with the trusted experts we feature in these real-life stories.
We’re humbled and honored to document the inspiring journeys of people who want to help others by sharing their personal stories. They’re changing lives.
She spoke in a whisper, but Rylie Whitten wanted the story of her battle with toxic shock syndrome heard far and wide. “Be careful. Be aware,” she said, her voice soft and raspy. “Educate yourself.” The 15-year-old from Greenville surprised her parents with the speed of her recovery after a fierce life-and-death battle that captured the attention of the world.
As Benny Boes battled a devastating brain tumor, he and his wife, Elise, set out to treasure every moment together. They considered life a gift and found grace and joy in Benny’s final months. In his words, “It’s going to be the best year of our lives.” And, even with his very last breath, he and his family have been undeniably awesome. They claim victory over cancer because they didn’t let it define them. Their love defines them.
Just moments after a C-section, Evelise Greene was able to hold her newborn daughter, thanks to a new drape with a baby-sized doorway. “Welcome to the world,” Evelise murmured to her daughter. “We love you so much. You are so beautiful.” This story and accompanying photos captured the beauty of the moment of birth and the innovative doorway that made it especially incredible.
In this powerful story about end-of-life decisions, 3-year-old Ethan DeHoek’s parents sought to make life comfortable for their sweet boy, for as long as he had left. It’s as if the light of Heaven itself shined down on this family as they struggled with difficult moments and reveled in the presence of their little boy’s joyous wide smiles.
At six months pregnant, Anna Weeber appeared to be a glowing picture of health. While considering an afternoon bike ride with her 2-year-old son, a ruptured brain aneurysm sent her world spiraling. After 18 days in the hospital, she returned home to await the birth of a healthy boy. “We give all the glory to God,” Anna said. “I think I’m a walking, talking miracle. For me to have no mental or physical disabilities … it is humbling and overwhelming.”
With poignancy, humor and a doctor’s insight, cardiologist Craig Alguire, MD, chronicles his battle with a golf ball-sized brain tumor that threatened to end his 39-year ‘hot streak’ of loving life. He focuses not on the odds, but on the hope that he will survive and emerge from this patient experience as a better doctor.
Elijah’s family knows him to have the heart of a lion, the fight of a champion. So when his doctors in Atlanta suggested the tiny baby boy go home for his last few days on Earth, the family refused to accept this verdict. They instead took to the Internet, searching for answers. What they found was a story about another baby who defied the odds at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The Grand Rapids team rallied to help give ‘Mighty boy Elijah’ a chance at life.
Ten-now-turned-11-year-old Lilly Vanden Bosch shows us all how to embrace life despite the roller coaster ups and downs encountered along the way. In this special series of stories, Lilly takes us through her bone marrow transplant journey as a way of promoting the gift of life. She shows courage in the face of adversity and strength despite setbacks. She powers through with a smile on her face and joy in her heart when she can finally claim victory.
Jonathan Koster is a special young man. Despite dire predictions as he grew in his mother’s womb, he surprised everyone. He’s now 22 and has dozens of surgeries behind him and a bright future ahead. And then, earlier this year, he made history by becoming the first in the world to get a custom-designed titanium jaw. In his words: “I am blessed.”
When doctors told Khalique Vialva that he would be fighting a rare form of cancer that affects only four in 1 million kids, the teen wasn’t surprised. He’d had an inkling he had cancer, even told his mom, as he dealt with symptoms they had difficulty explaining. “Mama, I don’t mind,” Khalique told his mother during his battle. “I’m OK. I know I’m going to beat this.”
Wondering what other stories rounded out the top 50? Here you go: