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A tour fit for a Champion

Seven-year-old Tanya Holbrook has had a lot of adjectives placed in front of her name.

Doctors have called her a survivor. Her teachers call the Eastwood second-grader creative and an inspiration. Her mother, Vicki Jahner, likes to say that shes just plain stubborn.

Shes strong and shes stubborn, Jahner said. Otherwise, she wouldnt be here today.

As a very little girl, Holbrook was quick to help her mother take care of her two siblings, an older brother and sister. She would provide pillows, blankets and anything else that they might need.

But on one fateful day last winter, it was Tanya herself that was feeling ill. She complained of a headache, faded in and out of consciousness, and just wasnt herself.

Jahner took her to MeritCares emergency room, where doctors discovered that Tanya had bleeding on the brain due to an erupted blood vessel.

It started a three-month process of assistance and recovery. In all, she had nearly a dozen procedures, and she suffered through several treatments. Doctors also discovered a hole in her lung that was draining fluid, and had to repair that with a shunt.

Throughout her recovery, doctors used one more adjective for the little girl from West Fargo: champion.

Its that word that earned Holbrook, now happy and healthy, a trip to Orlando, Fla., and Washington, D.C. earlier this month with her family and local representatives of the Childrens Miracle Network (CMN).

Each year, one champion is chosen from each state by the childrens hospitals to act as ambassadors to the media and public by representing the 14 million kids treated each year at childrens hospitals around the nation. The family found out in July that is was Tanya who was to get a trip to Florida and then to the nations capital, where she and the 49 others received a visit from the President of the United States

Jahner and her three kids set out for Orlando on March 15. They spent three days in Florida, hitting the Magic Kingdom and MGM Studios, receiving visits from famous CMN founders like John Schneider and Marie Osmond, and audiences with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, along with Donald Duck.

They were just treated like kings and queens, Jahner said. They came into this room on Thursday night for a party, and the staff from CMN and all the representatives from sponsors involved in the event just stood and cheered for them. It was great.

Though she got a whirlwind tour of Americas most popular tourist destination, Tanya said her favorite spot was right in the hotel.

I loved to go swimming, she said. And I was in bed by 7.

The family then joined the CMN group and hit Washington, where they toured the Lincoln Memorial and then had lunch at Capitol Hill on Monday, before meeting President George W. Bush on Tuesday.

He was very nice. Just very happy and fun. He liked hanging out with the kids a lot, Jahner said. Once he asked one boy if he could sign his cowboy hat, they were all over him with pens, asking for autographs. Tanya had him sign her shirt.

Jahner said life is turning back to normal, somewhat, since the whirlwind tour. Tanya, who is blind in one eye and has some brain damage, has appointments each week to monitor her progress. She visits her doctors, even the surgeons who helped her along the way at the Childrens Hospital, and then heads to classes at Eastwood when she can.

For Jahner, a single mother, the experience will continue to pay off. She made friends with several of the other parents that were part of the CMN Champions program, and will try to stay in touch with them through CMN.

Its great to meet them, she said. I mean, no one else here can really understand all of the stuff that we went through. But there, we heard so many stories, and you dont feel so alone. It really helps to know that other families have made it through too, and it will be nice to know that you can talk with someone about it.

CMN, the alliance of premier hospitals for children, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping kids by raising funds for 180 childrens hospitals across the continent, including MeritCare Childrens Hospital.