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news News Thursday, June 14, 2018 Thursday, June 14, 2018 2:28 PM - Thursday, June 14, 2018 2:28 PM

Isabella looks back on year as national patient ambassador

Isabella looks back on year as national patient ambassador

July marks the end of an amazing year for Isabella, a Chicago Shriners Hospital patient who had the opportunity to serve as one of two national patient ambassadors for Shriners Hospitals for Children. The 15 year old has packed in travel to major events on behalf of the hospital and Shriners International, while also making time to attend regional and local functions to raise awareness of the specialty care we provide. She recently visited Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago for our Hospital Day open house, and took a few minutes to reflect on the ambassador experience.

Isabella with Kechi at Rose Bowl ParadeAmong her personal highlights, Isabella mentions singing the national anthem before the East-West Shrine Game, riding in the Rose Bowl Parade, and representing the hospital at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, an official PGA TOUR event. “I am so grateful that Imperial Sir Gary Bergenske and Lady Ann chose me to be one of the National Ambassadors this year. I was so honored,” she said.

During the year, and at the recent Hospital Day, Isabella shared a message. “Shriners Hospitals [for Children] doesn’t only take children who are ‘broken’ and fix them. They fix them physically, but also emotionally, by showing these children they have worth and are someone special whatever their physical differences.” Isabella adds, “I use the word ‘broken’ because I don’t like the word ‘disabled.’ It implies a limit. I think everyone is “able” to do something.” Isabella was born with a hidden submuccous cleft palate, the so called "hidden cleft" condition was missed by doctors. As a young child she suffered from bullying and was shy due to garbled speech. She finally got help when her parents brought her to the cleft palate specialty team at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago. Our team diagnosed her condition and provided the care and surgeries that gave her clear speech. Using her voice and natural talent, Isabella now sings and speaks to large groups.

People around the country have responded. “My favorite moments were being able to travel around the United States, meeting so many patients and people who had what I had,” she said. Isabella recalls one child she met at the Clearwater Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida. Shriners Hospitals for Children ambassadors visit the aquarium annually to meet Winter, the dolphin made famous in movies for overcoming the odds using a prosthetic tail. Many children in our hospital system use prosthetics to find their own independence. “We were filming at the aquarium. A mom came up and said her daughter also had a submuccous cleft palate. She was from all the way in Australia. It was so cool.” The mom went on to say her daughter was shy, but took quickly took to Isabella. “When she heard I had (submuccous cleft) too, she came right up and started talking to me.”

Isabella at Clearwater Aquarium

At the recent Chicago Shriners Hospital Hospital Day event, she sang the national anthem before addressing the large crowd. Isabella was thrilled that among the introductions was her plastic surgeon, David Morris, M.D. “My doctor who did my surgery, who also turned my life around, is introducing me.” She thanked the Shriners fraternity for supporting the hospital system and talked about her journey as a patient. “Shriners Hospitals is a group of family. A family dynamic surrounds you and supports you at the hospitals.”

Isabella with Brett Favre at East-West Shrine GameAs she wraps her year as an official ambassador, we asked about a favorite person she got to meet. “Brett Favre,” she said. The former Green Bay Packers quarterback was scheduled to attend the East-West Shrine Game. “I knew he was going to be there so I chose his #4 for my jersey. It said ‘Rose 4.’ He saw it when I sang the national anthem and we got a chance to hang out.”

Isabella is also quick to recall the many people, not just the celebrities, touched by her story and the work of Shriners Hospitals for Children. “Another player at the game, after I got done singing, he came up to me and gave me a hug. He was crying. It was really, really sweet.”

Throughout her travels this year, Isabella said she has made and bonded with “new close friends for a lifetime.” As for the Shriners International and Shriners Hospitals for Children staff and volunteers, she adds, “Please don’t forget you are all angels. You are my angels."

Isabella with Shriners at Hospital Day