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Rose Parade float rider profiles

Rose Parade float rider profiles

Madelyn – National Patient Ambassador, Shriners Hospitals for Children

Madelyn, now 19, was born 10 weeks early. Doctors told her parents that she was beautiful, healthy, tiny – and was born without her left arm. Madelyn’s journey with Shriners Hospitals for Children began with her first visit to our St. Louis location, when she was just 3 months old. Throughout her childhood, Madelyn used prosthetics, mainly for balance and to help with various activities. Occupational therapists at the hospital helped Madelyn learn to function and interact in the world. As she grew older, Madelyn began using her prosthetics less often, and by middle school, she opted to stop using them.

In school, Madelyn’s busy schedule included not only her classwork but also competitive swimming, first on a team for children with disabilities, then on her high school team. She also participated in competitive, coed water polo. “Nothing is impossible in my mind," she said. “It’s just the ability to adapt and work around it.” Madelyn has always devoted herself to advocating and educating. She loves to make YouTube videos showing how to accomplish things using only one arm. At Ability Awareness Week, a program of St. Louis area elementary schools, Madelyn loves to share her story and to explain how Shriners Hospitals for Children changed her life. Drawing from her own experiences of being bullied for having only one arm, Madelyn likes to incorporate anti-bullying themes into her presentations.

Madelyn is currently a student at Maryville University in St. Louis, where she is very active in student activities, and made the Dean’s List her first two semesters. “I am incredibly excited to see where this year takes me,” Madelyn said. “I hope to inspire other kids and be able to show them that they can do anything they put their mind to – they might just do it a little bit differently."

Cristian – National Patient Ambassador, Shriners Hospitals for Children

Cristian, who is now 18, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. In his first two weeks of life, Cristian had two surgeries and went on to have nearly a dozen more. Cristian faced several of the same challenges as many other patients with spina bifida, including gastrointestinal system and balance difficulties, as well as complications from various surgeries.

For several years, Cristian's family had difficulty finding doctors who understood how to best help him. That all changed one day in 2012, when Cristian met a Shriner who referred him to Shriners Hospitals for Children. Cristian was 13 when he had the surgery that he says changed his life and gave him hope, at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Los Angeles (now Shriners for Children Medical Center — Pasadena).

Devoted to his schoolwork and seminary studies, as well as his part-time job and playing the cello, Cristian has also been active in supporting Shriners Hospitals for Children. He even dedicated his Eagle Scout project to the cause, raising funds to present more than 200 Build-A-Bear toys to the Pasadena medical center.

Cristian is looking forward to his responsibilities as a National Patient Ambassador. “I know that I am who I am because of the Shriners,” he said. “I have been able to see that I can do whatever I want and I can overcome any obstacle that I face. I want to give back to them because of that – because of the life that they’ve given me. Through Shriners Hospitals for Children and the national ambassadorship that I’ve been given, I hope to share a message of positivity and hope to all those who need it.”

Gianna – Patient, Shriners for Children Medical Center — Pasadena

Gianna, who will be 12 at the end of January, was born with a congenital birth defect known as proximal femoral focal deficiency, which caused her left leg to develop slower than her right. Her parents chose Shriners Hospitals for Children — Los Angeles (now Shriners for Children Medical Center — Pasadena) who supported their family in making the decision to amputate Gianna’s leg above the knee when she was just 16 months old. Within weeks of the amputation she was taking her first steps on a prosthetic provided by Shriners Hospitals.

Gianna has received many prosthetic legs over the years, including some that have given her the opportunity to participate in sports and play with her friends. She particularly loves to play softball.

Because of the support given to their family, Gianna’s father, Sean, has become a Shriner to help ensure that more families are able to receive the best care possible at Shriners Hospitals for Children.

"There is no stopping Gianna. Shriners Hospitals for Children gave her the confidence to compete in life. Her natural ability and determination make her shine as an individual,” said Gianna’s mom, Devon.

Monserrath – Patient, Shriners for Children Medical Center — Pasadena

Monserrath, who is now 15, was born in Tijuana, Mexico, with a cleft lip and palate. She had her first surgery for a cleft repair at a hospital in Mexico when she was 5 months old. She underwent two additional surgeries at ages 2 and 3 for reconstruction of her palate and nose.

Her family moved to Los Angeles in 2013, and soon after, Monserrath’s third grade teacher recommended that her mom take her to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Los Angeles (now Shriners for Children Medical Center — Pasadena). At her first appointment, Monserrath met William Magee, M.D., D.D.S., chief of plastics and director of the cleft lip and palate program. Dr. Magee diagnosed Monserrath with unilateral cleft lip and palate and suggested redoing the palate surgery. Since then, she has undergone three surgeries at Shriners Hospitals. Monserrath refers to Dr. Magee as “the most kindest doctor in the whole world.” Dr. Magee said, “Monserrath was born slightly different than others, but because of her great strength and family support system she has been able to blossom into the kind and confident young woman she is today.”

“Over the years, my experience at Shriners Hospitals for Children has been extremely pleasant. There are no words to describe how well they treat kids. The communication they have and the way they make me feel comfortable and calm before my surgery is out of this world amazing. Overall Shriners for Children Medical Center is a wonderful place to be at, because the doctors, nurses and staff are marvelous people who are there to help you with anything you need. I personally love this hospital for helping me get better,” said Monserrath.

Jeff and Cheryl Sowder – Imperial Potentate and First Lady, Shriners International

Jeff Sowder is the Imperial Potentate, or CEO, of Shriners International, the fraternity that founded and continues to support Shriners Hospitals for Children as its official philanthropy. His wife, Cheryl, has the title of First Lady.

Sowder became a Mason when he was 19 and ultimately became a leader of Masonry in Kansas. He successfully led a fundraising effort to raise $15 million in four years for cancer research at Kansas University, allowing the school to be designated as a National Cancer Institute, under the name Kansas Masonic Cancer Research Institute. Sowder served as leader of his local Shriners chapter in 2004 and has been on the fraternity’s international board for 10 years. He serves on many international level committees and is the Liaison Officer for several of our hospitals.

As First Lady, Cheryl leads a fundraising effort that benefits Shriners Hospitals for Children. Her program, Heroes Among Us, supports the patient ambassador programs that allow patients and their families to share their stories and raise the profile of our organizations. Cheryl also co-founded Women & Philanthropy, an annual giving society benefiting Shriners Hospitals that is open to all women that have the desire to make the world a better place.

Sowder operates four separate agricultural-related corporations. Jeff and Cheryl live in Toronto, Kansas (population 275), and have been married for 45 years. Their family includes their two daughters, Stephanie and Lindsay. Stephanie and her husband, Jamie, have three children Corinne, Sutton and Reid. Lindsey and her husband, John, have two sons, JJ and Hudson.

Bobby and Nancy Simmons – Imperial Chaplain, Shriners International

Bobby Simmons and his wife, Nancy, live in Bonaire, Georgia. Simmons serves as Imperial Chaplain for Shriners International. In his position, Simmons leads the invocation and benediction at all international level Shriner events.

Simmons is a Master Mason and has served in many leadership positions among the Masonic family organizations of which he is a member. He served as leader of his local Shriners temple (chapter) in 1988, and currently is their Treasurer.

Simmons served six years on the Shriners Hospitals for Children Board of Trustees, from 2009 through 2015. While on the board, he was Liaison Officer for seven Shriners Hospitals locations. He has also been a member of several hospital and fraternal committees.

Simmons joined the United States Air Force and traveled throughout Georgia, Texas, Michigan, Greece and Vietnam. He received many honors and distinctions during his service including “Best Flight Engineer Award” from the Air Training Command, the Air Force Commendation Medal, Joint Services Medal and a Point of Light Award from President George H. Bush. He retired in 1981 and began a civil service career at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia.

Bobby and Nancy are active members of Bonaire Methodist Church. They are volunteers at the Methodist Children’s Home, where they both received the Volunteer of the Year Award. They have three children: Jeffrey (and his wife Rebecca), Teresa (and her husband, Tony) and David (and his wife Monica). They have five grandchildren: James, Rob, Roman, Keilah and T.J.