Medical miracle spurs drive to give back

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein |
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Courtney Critz knows what it’s like being cooped up in the hospital. Just four months after being born at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento, the 13-year-old Folsom resident was diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening blood-vessel disorder. For four years, she relied on a tube to breathe, and had to make frequent visits to the hospital. But the ordeal was softened, so to speak, thanks to the furry bundles of stuffed-animal joy donated to child patients by volunteers and well-wishers. So on Monday, a much healthier Courtney made good on a longtime dream to express her gratitude to Kaiser doctors and nurses and spread a little joy herself. Clad in her Junior Miss Sacramento sash and tiara, the seventh-grade beauty queen delivered several armloads of stuffed animals — including dozens of the popular Webkinz variety — to young patients at Kaiser’s Roseville Women’s and Children’s Center. “It wasn’t like I was trapped in a hospital; I was able to be like most other kids. But I just know what it meant to me,” said Courtney, who can breathe freely but still has a tracheotomy scar on her neck. The stuffed critters were collected as part of Toy Cleanup, a project Courtney developed when she was 10. As part of the effort, she seeks donated stuffed animals, cleans them up and distributes them to a local children’s receiving home. Most recently, she raised the hundreds of dollars needed to buy the Webkinz, a stuffed animal that has a virtual life online. “It’s very, very gratifying,” said pediatrician Dr. Donald Haugen. “The group of doctors here, we don’t get to see kids often when they’re healthy.” At the medical center, Courtney received a commendation from the staff and presented a stuffed animal to a patient, 12-year-old Annina Hanlon of Roseville. She’s receiving chemotherapy for a type of bone cancer and spends a lot of time at the hospital. “Chemo’s yucky, but it’s doing a great thing,” she said of her treatment. The two shared hospital experiences and strategies for making the best of it. The stuffed animal was sure to help, Annina said. “It’s a hospital, so you kind of have to bring stuff in to make yourself at home,” she said. That’s just the reaction Courtney was hoping for. “And you know what? It’s a miracle what they do here,” she said. “I’m alive. I’m living proof.”