Monday, March 14, 2005

Mellorrie Gander, 11, and her mother, May, are excited about the family's upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. Mellorrie, who was born with a congenital heart defect, was one of 50 children selected nationwide to serve as ambassadors.

Hawaii’s champion

11-year-old heart patient Mellorrie Gander
will serve as an ambassador in
Washington, D.C., as part of a
Children’s Miracle Network program

Mellorrie Gander was born with a hole in her heart.

At 2 months of age, Mellorrie stopped breathing, and she received the first surgery to repair her heart.

Since then the girl from Kaneohe has had four operations for the congenital heart defect.

The spunky 11-year-old will represent Hawaii in Washington, D.C., this week as an ambassador for millions of hospitalized children.

Mellorrie was noted for her "courage, tenacity and perseverance" as one of 50 children from the different states to participate in a Children's Miracle Network program called Foresters Champions Across America.

Her father, Rudy, works for the Department of Homeland Security, and her mother, May, is merchandise manager of Macy's at Windward Mall. The Gander family, including Mellorrie's brother Ryson, 14, will leave tomorrow for Washington, where the "champions" will join Grammy Award winner LeAnn Rimes to serve as ambassadors for 17 million hospitalized children.

"She's ecstatic and ready to go," Rudy Gander said, noting her bags were already packed by Friday.

Gander said the family was urged to apply for the trip because of Mellorrie's medical history and experiences at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.

She was born with a condition called tetralogy of fallot -- a hole in the wall separating the two sides of her heart, combined with narrowing of the path from the heart's right side to the lungs.

After surgery her breathing problems continued, and she often turned purple.

The Ganders waited two years for open-heart surgery for their daughter, then learned she had a stray artery, a rare anomaly that complicated her condition.

Mellorrie had a fourth operation after she began having mood swings and tired easily. The surgeons installed an adult-size shunt to improve blood flow to her lungs.

"She might need another one when she is older," her father said, "but she's doing OK now."

A Windward Nazarene Academy fifth-grader, Mellorrie said she likes to play the piano "and sometimes tennis."

She is unable to run but likes "hitting the ball back and forth," her father said.

He said they have a tight schedule in Washington.

"Chances of meeting the president are very slim," Gander said, but the young "champions" will visit Capitol Hill on Thursday for visits with U.S. senators, including Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka.

A White House tour also might be scheduled Thursday or Friday, and the Miracle Network representatives and families will visit the Smithsonian National Zoological Park on Saturday.

Mellorrie also was selected as one of two Foresters Champion Children to go to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., March 22 for a Children's Miracle Network Celebration Concert. They will be invited onstage for the production, to be nationally televised at a later date.

The Champions Across America program is sponsored by Foresters, which supports the Children's Miracle Network, an alliance of 170 hospitals for children.

The Kapiolani Children's Miracle Network has raised funds for 21 years to support programs and services at Kapiolani Medical Center for all children who need treatment for birth defects, cancer, muscular and cardiovascular disease, AIDS and accidents.

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