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Young cancer survivor finds support at SPAC
Eight-year-old Aria VanDreason might be dead now if the doctors who first diagnosed her in 2011 had been correct. She was given one to five years because of what was thought to be an inoperable brain stem tumor. It was doctors at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital who saved her by removing the tumor. Now she goes back twice a year for a check-up and is making what's been called an incredible recovery.
"Right out of surgery it was like she had a stroke," says Aria's mother, Amy Duerr VanDreason. "She lost the complete use of her right arm and right leg, she couldn't feel it. She couldn't feel her throat so she couldn't cough, she couldn't swallow - she was on a feeding tube, we were suctioning her 24/7."
It was clear watching Aria dancing that she has come a long way in her recovery. She was among about two dozen kids who learned ballet moves from two members of the New York City Ballet, which is performing this week at SPAC. One of SPAC's sponsor's - AngioDynamics, a catheter manufacturer - has a relationship with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and helped to arrange Aria's evening at SPAC.
"We couldn't be more happy, proud that we can give back to a little girl who's very brave and has gone through a lot," says SPAC President Marcia White. "It's time for her to enjoy something special. She deserves it."
Her parents are physical therapists and helped her with her PT for two hours a day before the hospital therapists arrived to provide another hour of therapy.
"She's gone from riding in a wheel chair with a feeding tube and suction to walking on her own without any assistance and using her right arm, getting back to using her right arm," says Aria's mother.
While visiting SPAC, Aria was greeted by dancer Emily Kikta, who posed for a picture and gave Aria a bag of gifts that included a pair of Kikta's ballet shoes. One of the most enjoyable gifts was ice cream Aria ate while sitting on the lawn with her younger brother.