Saturday, June 6, 2009

Savannah Beats the Odds

Published in Lincoln Kids newspaper, Fall 2008

Little Savannah has beaten the odds, not once but twice.

Savannah was born with only ten percent of her brain. A doctor told her mother, Janine Stearns, that she would be lucky if her daughter lived three months, and he’d never seen a child with those difficulties live longer than six years.

On July 15 Savannah celebrated her tenth birthday.

Why did she beat the odds? “It’s because Savannah is who she is,” Janine said. “She’s got a huge will to live.” Several times a seizure or reaction to medication brought her near death, Janine said, but Savannah always pulled herself through. “She has really proved herself so many times that she can do it,” she said.

Though Savannah cannot walk or talk, and functions at the level of a nine-month old infant, she has her own personality. She loves to laugh, cuddle and tease. She adores music. She sings along with everything from Gwen Stefani to Elvis and Frank Sinatra, and she gets excited when she can turn on her CD player and musical toys (see photo). Two of her favorite TV shows are “American Idol” (she cheered for David Archuleta) and “So You Think You Can Dance.” She couldn’t get enough of the “It’s a Small World” ride during a recent trip to Disneyworld. The Make-A-Wish Foundation has made it possible for Savannah to take a special trip this September to see “The Little Mermaid” on Broadway.

It isn’t easy caring for a child with special needs, but Janine is thankful for the support she’s received from the Lincoln community, including Dr. Kurstin Friesen, Savannah’s pediatrician, who has cared for her faithfully; the West O Fire Station paramedics, who saved Savannah’s life when she had a seizure in the middle of the night; the nurses at St. Elizabeth Medical Center, who are all on first-name basis with Janine; and Savannah’s baby-sitter, Tara Graham, who lovingly cares for Savannah while Janine works as the administrator of the Havelock Haven Manor.

Janine recalls the first few weeks of Savannah’s life. She would spend nearly all her time at the hospital, when she wasn’t working as an LPN at Lancaster Manor. Her co-workers baked casseroles and made sure Janine’s husband and two sons had plenty to eat. Through the difficult times—complications from her gastric bypass surgery and her husband’s mental illness and suicide—Janine has relied on her faith in God and the support of her mother, who has always been “just a phone call away.”

Is caring for Savannah a burden? “I’ve never looked it as a burden,” Janine said. “She’s my daughter.” Savannah has brought so much to her life. “I think she makes me who I am today. She’s made me a lot stronger. She has definitely given me a whole new spin on what courage means, and she shows me every day.”

Though there have been a few rude comments, Janine said she is amazed at the way most people have accepted Savannah. Her baby-sitter’s two girls used to ask Savannah to spend the night with them. “They would paint her fingernails and toenails,” she said. “She’d be princess for the night.”

If you see someone in the store with a disability, it’s okay to be curious, Janine said. It’s okay to ask questions. Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with her?” ask something like, “Why is she in a wheelchair?” or “What is her disability?”

Janine never questions why she has a handicapped child or why she went through difficult experiences. “I think God gives me life experiences and there’s something He’s trying to teach me. I think that I need to share my story with other people.”

You can see more pictures of Savannah and read her story at

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