“Follow your dreams!” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “You can do anything you set your mind to!” These messages are as common to childhood as popsicles and PB&Js. But for children facing a complex medical diagnosis or serious injury, these aspirations can seem out of reach.
For more than 100 years, Shriners Children’s has provided transformational care that helps children along their journey to a bright future. Our patients dream big and accomplish great things. They become business owners, teachers, doctors and pilots. They are professional athletes and motivational speakers.
For every patient facing what feels like an uncertain road ahead, there’s another out there paving the path to greatness. Here are just a few stories of these remarkable young adults.
Steven faces the fire
Steven wears his life on his skin. Ink from more than 14 tattoos can be found beside raised lines, bumps and swirls. Every scar is like a map you can trace to the accident that changed his body forever.
When he was 14, Steven sustained second- and third-degree burns over most of his body after a gas leak triggered an explosion at his home in West Virginia. For three months, he received treatment at Shriners Children’s Ohio.
“It was really frustrating,” he recalled. “I remembered how to walk, eat and lift things, but my body wouldn’t cooperate.”
Steven credits his family and care team for finding the right motivation: sports. “We started small by tossing a ball,” he said. “They knew playing sports was really important to me, so it felt like we were accomplishing something together.”
After he was discharged, Steven wanted an activity that was both physically and mentally challenging. He found that in Strongman competitions and has spent the last six years competing and succeeding in these events. He placed second in West Virginia’s 2020 Strongman competition and was named “Miami’s Baddest Man” in 2021.
This strongman can lift a 330-pound stone over his head and carry an 800-pound yoke for 50 feet. “Just because I look different doesn’t mean anyone should underestimate what my body and mind are capable of,” said Steven.
Now 31, Steven has a new challenge: firefighting. “Fire may have won round one with me when I was a kid, but I’ll win round two,” he said.
Emmy leaves it all on the dance floor
Emmy, 19, had debilitating knee pain that she suffered throughout her early childhood. She was born with discoid meniscus, a rare condition where the C-shaped pad of cartilage in the knee that acts as a shock absorber is instead oval or disc-shaped.
By the time she was 12, Emmy had undergone five knee surgeries, yet the pain became unbearable. She feared she would never again be able to do the one thing she loved most – dance.
Emmy’s parents were not ready to let their daughter give up. The sports medicine care team at Shriners Children’s Northern California help put Emmy back on the path to her passion.
“It seemed so crazy,” said Emmy. “I never thought I would be dancing again!”
Not only did Emmy get back out on the floor, but she even had a stint as a professional dancer. Emmy credits her success to the two knee surgeries, hours of physical therapy and the endless encouragement she received from Shriners Children’s staff. She said the team helped lead her away from pain toward dancing again.
“Shriners Children’s kept telling me I could dance again,” said Emmy. “They gave me my life back.”
Matthew makes it his business to give back
When Matthew was 2, a horrific accident left him with third-degree burns and substantial injuries to his hand. He was rushed to Shriners Children’s Boston from his home state of New Hampshire for specialized burn care. Matthew was a patient for more than 15 years. During that time, he had dozens of surgeries to reconstruct his hand, as well as intensive physical therapy to improve function.
“As I look back on my difficult start in life, I realize it’s not what happens to you in life but what you do with it,” he said.
With a desire to help patients like himself, Matthew reconnected with Shriners Children’s Boston as an adult. He is the successful owner of a photography and videography company that services over 400 weddings a year. Matthew has donated his company’s photography and photo booth services, complete with fun props, for patient parties and the hospital’s signature fundraiser, the Boston Haunted Walk.
Matthew even ran the Boston Marathon to honor the burn care he received as a child, although he did it in a creative way. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a reimagining of the beloved race in 2020, with runners choosing their own 26.2-mile course. Matthew crossed his finish line at Shriners Children’s Boston to raise funds and awareness for the hospital that gave him the hope and healing to achieve his dreams.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Inspired by the incredible accomplishments of former patients, current patients tell us about their hopes and dreams for the future.
Bridget, 15 | SHRINERS CHILDREN’S NEW ENGLAND
“I want to be a pilot because I can fly people all over the world to destinations they love, and it would make them happy.”
Kayson, 8 | SHRINERS CHILDREN’S OHIO
“I think it would be cool to design prosthetics for animals or develop websites for blind or visually impaired users.”
Grace, 15 | SHRINERS CHILDREN’S FLORIDA
“I want to be an artist. I love to draw, and I’m inspired by nature! I want to use art to encourage people.”
Wen, 10 | SHRINERS CHILDREN’S SHREVEPORT
“I want to work in the horse industry. I enjoy training, riding and just about anything to do with horses. I cannot think of anything I’d rather do that brings so much joy to my life.”
Madison, 16 | SHRINERS CHILDREN’S LEXINGTON
“I want to express myself creatively in the art of acting because I love to embody characters. Acting gives a different perspective of looking at life.”
Solomon, 16 | SHRINERS CHILDREN’S HAWAI’I
“I want to design video games and even be on BattleBots someday.”
Dash, 8 | SHRINERS CHILDREN’S TWIN CITIES
“I want to dedicate myself to flower farming and help the community where I am from. I like to see how flowers grow and cultivate them. I am studying engineering in sustainable agricultural innovation.”
Maria, 18 | SHRINERS CHILDREN’S MEXICO
Sydney, 18 | SHRINERS CHILDREN’S PHILADELPHIA