Comeback Kids – Part 1

Catherine Pegram

Updated 1 year ago

Among the fears parents face is their happy, healthy child isn’t healthy. Instead, they’re diagnosed with a life-altering disease or disorder. We often share the stories of those children in the beginning of their fight. Now we’d like to meet some who’ve waged the battle and won.We’re calling them Comeback Kids. When Katie Leighton was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 8 1/2 months old, her parents had no idea what that would mean for their daughter’s future. Phyllis Leighton says, “We never dreamed that she would be so successful in cheering and gymnastics. She was the most decorated cheerleader to graduate from MDI High School. We never dreamed that she’d end up going the road she did and graduating with her degree in physical education and health education.” Now at 24, Katie’s back in Bar Harbor as an assistant cheerleading coach and ready to launch full-time into the workforce. “I like people to know that I’m strong and I’m not going to back down. If something happens, I’m just going to keep going.” And a lot has happened along the way – 72 times in the hospital, 21 surgeries, asthma, diabetes, glaucoma and more. Each day takes hours of chest therapy and breathing treatments and nearly three dozen medications. “Sometimes I’m kind of like I don’t know, but for the most part, if I want to be happy and live how I want to live, I have to do it. I don’t have a choice.” “I’ve tried baseball, basketball, football, everything else but I just really like swimming.” 14-year-old Ben Hatch hopes his time in the pool could be training for a military career – as a Navy Seal. “I’d like to set my sights high and try to be the best I can be,” he says. Ben’s a long way from the day he was born at 26 weeks, weighing just 1 pound, 12 ounces. Tammy Hatch, Ben’s mom, says, “There were moments it was very much life and death. Got a call early one morning, you should come to the hospital. So it was a lot of roller coasters in regards to his health.” After 101 days in the hospital, Ben finally came home. Tammy still gets emotional when she thinks back to those first few month of his life. “Ben truly is a miracle child, being a micro-preemie and not having any brain hemorrhaging, which leads to learning disabilities. That’s very much unheard of, given his weight and the weeks he was born at. I’ve enjoyed his milestones because I know how much he struggled to be in here in this world.” Unlike Ben, Katie will spend the rest of her life managing her medical conditions. She uses that, though, to teach others about cystic fibrosis, as well as determination and drive. Sometimes she learns something, too. “Everyday people are like, oh, you are so strong. You inspire me and that sort of thing. So sometimes I just have to hear people say it in order for me to realize it. ” Her mom says, “I’ve always told her she’s my hero. Because she keeps pushing, pushing, pushing. I see a strong person. I see the person we taught to live life, not live to die.”Katie and Ben are alive and thriving thanks, in part, to the Children’s Miracle Network, which provides pediatric support and equipment to hospitals in Maine. In November, CMN is marking a big milestone. We’ll hear more about that in Part 2 of this story and meet two more Comeback Kids.


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