February 16, 2021
Gabe Gitzen dreams of being a police officer … Or a firefighter … Or maybe even a paramedic. More than anything, he wants to be a hero to others.
As the 2021 South Dakota Children’s Miracle Network Champion, he’ll have the chance to do just that. Throughout the year, he’ll serve as the face for children treated at Sanford Children’s Hospital and help inspire philanthropic giving to care for local and kids and families.
Not too long ago, Gabe’s future wasn’t so certain. His parents, Sarah and Joe, found themselves in a waking nightmare. At 3 years old, Gabe was diagnosed with cancer after a routine tonsillectomy.
“It never even registered to us that cancer could be possible,” Sara said. “Gabe never acted sick.”
The Madison family found hope in Sanford Children’s Castle of Care – home to the region’s only pediatric cancer experts and the Child Life staff who made Gabe feel like the king of the castle.
“The second we entered that castle, they were there with a set of toys waiting for him,” Joe said. “Anytime you can see your kid smile and have a good time during that kind of situation is a blessing.
“Gabe was a rock star. He handled it like a champion.”
Gabe was diagnosed on Aug. 31, 2018, and by Christmas time, his cancer was in remission.
The family was so relieved, but for Sara, that’s when the stress of the past few months started to sink in.
“During treatment, you are in war mode,” Sara said. “When treatment is over, you move back into normal life and have time to dwell on what just happened. Now every bump, every mark, my head goes to the worst-case scenario, because we’ve been there. That will always be in the back of my mind.”
The gift of growing up
The Gitzens aren’t alone. There are so many kids and families facing the uncertainty and difficulty of an injury or illness. They rely on expert care at Sanford Children’s Hospital.
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