Join Us In Celebration of 100 Years of Unstoppable Spirit & Care Learn More
donate icon DONATE

Through Darkness I Shine: Mia's Story

Through Darkness I Shine: Mia's Story (Full Version)

Mia, 16, was born with a severe case of infantile idiopathic scoliosis. Her journey with Shriners Hospitals for Children began when she was 2, when she was first seen at the St. Louis location. Mia’s treatments have included halo traction to gradually straighten and stretch her spine, as well as nearly 20 surgeries. Mia’s passion is theater and singing, and she has been featured in several of our commercials. Mia was also part of the Shriners children’s choir who performed in a recent recording of Foreigner’s hit song, "I Want to Know What Love Is." Meet National Patient Ambassador Mia and see her story.
View Transcript
Mia:
Hi. My name is Mia. I'm 16 years old and I'm your new national patient ambassador this year. I live in Edwardsville, Illinois. I have my mom and my dad, my brother, Evan.

Andy:
When Mia was born, she was the most aware little baby I'd ever seen.

Amy:
She was an easy baby. Beautiful, bright blue eyes that just kept staring at us. Smiled at us numerous times while we were holding her and it was lovely.

Evan:
She is a very smart individual. She always seems to know how to deal with a situation, considering the background and what she's been through.

Amy:
I would say it's probably three to four months in of her young life and holding her on the couch and feeding her and letting her sleep on me. I'm noticing that I'm feeling a shape that's not straight up and down on her spine. Very concerned and I knew in my mind that it wasn't right. There was definitely something going on. So I went for her four-month pediatric visit and brought the subject up to her physician at that time.

Andy:
The pediatrician kind of dismissed it initially. In follow-up visits though, I think it became apparent that there was something wrong.

Amy:
She had her first x-ray, which confirmed her curvature. So she was actually fitted for her brace at 18 months and started wearing one at that point through children's hospital.

Andy:
We tried the clam shell braces and those kinds of things and nothing seemed to help. It just seemed to be getting worse and worse. It was apparent that we were going to have to take a more drastic approach to helping her because her heart and her lungs were not developing appropriately. We initially got a lot of pushback from our insurance because they called these sorts of things cosmetic in nature. We fought with them for a little while, but then we ended up being referred to Shriners. The best referral that could have happened obviously.

Michael Kelly:
Mia is a perfect example of what the Shriners can provide. She had a very large curve as a young child, which if it had gone untreated would have resulted in a very different story today. As a child grows from probably three or four years old to 10 years old, we try not to fuse their spine and we try to just lengthen their spine. So Mia ran the gamut of spine interventions for her scoliosis from bracing to a growing construct to her definitive fusion.

Michael Kelly:
Halo traction allows us to get almost free curve correction. That if you take someone to the operating room, you can only get so much straightening of their spine at one time in a safe manner. Putting a child in a halo, it helps you achieve a safer, greater correction than if you were to try and do it all in one go in the operating room.

Mia:
I lived in the hospital for a couple months with my halo. And I just remember having so much fun. Sometimes you remember the bad points, but I mostly remember all the good times. It was such a fun summer when it normally wouldn't be, but it was really fun actually.

Amy:
So that was the start of my journey and Mia's journey and our life with Shriners hospital, which has been nothing but a blessing since then.

Mia:
During those years, it was about 17 surgeries total. And I was probably 12 or 13. I had my last surgery and I had my fusion. So I'm all done with surgeries. The people at Shriners are amazing. Every single nurse or doctor I've encountered is a really good person and it's just a really kind environment. Surgery was always actually an enjoyable experience. I loved going to the hospital and getting ready to go in surgery because I got to talk to all my caregivers and especially Joetta. She's like a grandmother to me. She's been there for as long as I can remember.

Joetta Worton:
Mia was a little bitty thing when we first saw her and I've watched her grow through the years into a beautiful young lady. She and Amy and I hit it off from day one.

Amy:
I was getting the best surgeon I could possibly get for my daughter. It's a feeling that swells your heart and overwhelms you.

Mia:
Kids can be interesting in school, middle school, especially. You start in locker rooms and everything and you get some stares when you have a big back scar and some questions. You kind of get used to it and I almost think of a scar as like a souvenir. I've been on a really long journey and I couldn't just buy it. It's really interesting that a scar on your body could tell so many different stories.

Amy:
She started to love music and singing probably by age four. By third grade she had her first singing teacher and was getting singing lessons because she just loved it so much because she could express herself through music.

Mia:
And when I came to middle school and sixth grade, I noticed they had musicals. So I decided to try out.

Hailey Patteron:
She came and auditioned for one of our productions for the theater company we run. And ever since, we've been hooked on her.

Mia:
I've done probably about 10 big shows. And you make just a lot of really, really beautiful memories.

Terry Patterson:
We have a not-for-profit arts group called Arts for Life and they give out performance awards. So up against about 1500 performers and she won for best outstanding youth performer. First time out of the gate.

Hailey Patteron:
Yeah.

Andy:
I remember seeing her on stage for the first time in a performance. I always knew that she could sing, but when I saw her on stage and she became that role that she was playing, I was really taken aback. I had no idea that she was that talented. Whatever that it is, she definitely has it.

Emily Ottwein:
The most amazing thing about Mia is that she puts her whole self into her artistry. And for someone so young to have all of that and the ability to make us as audience members feel an emotional connection with what she's portraying is really something extraordinary and phenomenal.

Ashley Melton:
Mia has a presence on stage. So we call that X factor and it's always hard to identify and always hard to find. But when you see someone on stage that has that X factor, you're pulled to the edge of your seat. Talent gets you into the room, but the resilience and the perseverance that you have as your work ethic is what will take you further. And that's really something that I see in Mia every day.

Mia:
I filmed a lot of commercials in the past with Shriners. It's really awesome to be able to put my performing into raising awareness as well, but it reaches so many people and it's brought in a lot of money for us. It just makes me feel really good to know that I have helped in some way.

Amy:
It's her hospital, it's another home to her, it's her family and she gets to express that, she gets to share that through the TV and it gets to reach everyone nationwide. That's one of her favorite things because it reaches so many people.

Mia:
I was at the hospital and Kelly Hanson, the lead singer of Foreigner came to visit all of us. And I actually became quite close with him. 10 years later, I was actually sent out to Tampa to film the I want to know what love is PSA and I got to see Kelly again. He came up to me and he was like, "I remember you. I met you 10 years ago." And it's so crazy that a celebrity who meets so many people would remember a little kid he played air hockey with. It was awesome.

Mia:
This is definitely unexpected. I thought my medical story would just be scoliosis and I'd be done.

Amy:
Last fall, my husband and myself, we noticed that she had a nodule on her neck.

Mia:
And we thought it would just be hypothyroidism because that's what my mom had.

Amy:
She had lab work done and so when we got to the endocrinologist, she said, "Yes. Your thyroid labs are elevated. Your ultrasound shows that you have tumors in there. You need more testing done. Some of them are large enough that say that you need to go see a surgeon."

Mia:
And when they tested it and checked it, it was true that I did have thyroid cancer.

Andy:
Getting that call was probably one of the worst things a parent could ever imagine. The first reaction everybody had was, "You got to be kidding me. What like some kind of a cruel joke or something?"

Amy:
I can't believe this. This kid's been through enough. We've already had 17 surgeries on her back.

Mia:
I have to do a few more treatments, but that's okay. I mean, that's life. It's definitely taught me I'm not invincible. I always had this mindset that I've been through such a long story that I don't need to go through anything else, but I know that happened for a reason. It's taught me a lot and I've taken a lot of emotions out of it that I hope to use in the future.

Andy:
She's had to fight a lot in her life. She's never been the kind of kid that gave up and said, "Oh, well." She's got this. She's not going to let anything beat her. And at the other end of it, she's going to be even stronger for it.

Joetta Worton:
We're not given more than we can handle. Sometimes you think you are at the moment, but she's handled it all. I think Shriners helped her gain some of that strength through all that she went through as a patient here. I'm very proud of her and the way she handles situations. She just takes them like a champ.

Mia:
Shriners is just such a helpful environment. It's become another home to me and I don't think I could ever say that about a hospital or really any other place.

Amy:
You weren't walking into such a large hospital that you felt like you were another number or felt like you were just a patient, but you felt like you were becoming part of something bigger than yourself.

Andy:
They did their best to make sure you felt like you were part of a family. And that meant a lot.

Evan:
I have a lot of appreciation for those people. They come in day in, day out and help out the kids who need it the most and always give a level of care that exceeds any expectation of any parent. Through Shriners They helped my sister establish a life that is much better than it would have been.

Michael Kelly:
I'm proud of her. It's amazing because she has been put through a ringer and she has taken every lick that has brought and makes her stronger and I think that the grit that she has shown through this is really what makes her special.

Ashley Melton:
I think what's inspiring is just the ability to get back up and keep going and push for your dreams still.

Hailey Patteron:
She has it and if she keeps going, she'll go far.

Emily Ottwein:
To be a part of helping somebody else find their dreams is an incredible privilege and I'm so honored that I get to be a part of her dream.

Evan:
And I look up to her and I want to be as tough as she is and talented as she is. I work to achieve that same level of success that she has.

Andy:
Mia's probably the strongest person I know. From the moment she was born she had a spark about her. No matter what she's dealing with, no matter what kind of problems that she has or things that she's going through, her heart always goes out to other people. I would say she's made me a better person.

Amy:
More than words can express, I love her with all my heart. She's just a wonderful person. She's so intelligent, she's a good student, and she's one of my best friends and I just love her to pieces. Just absolutely love her.

Mia:
I want to be known as the girl who overcame everything. And being able to use my talent for some good. I want people to think, "Wow. Anybody can do it then." I don't think I'd be as happy of a person if I wasn't with Shriners. It's a huge part of my life and without it, I think I'd probably be a little bit lost. So I guess I would just want to inspire more people to follow their dreams because I feel like the world would be a happier place if people were doing what they loved.