Olympic gold medalists Shawn Johnson, Shannon Miller inspire pediatric patients at Comer Children's Hospital

October 16, 2008

Troi Wesley and Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson Troi Wesley, 12, of Chicago, who is hospitalized for asthma, is excited and awed to try on Shawn Johnson’s gold medal from the 2008 Olympics.

Children at the University of Chicago Medical Center Comer Children's Hospital with life-threatening illnesses got the thrill of a lifetime Thursday when Olympic gold medalists Shawn Johnson and Shannon Miller walked into their rooms.

Johnson and Miller came to bring encouragement and enthusiasm to children--many of whom have spent a long time at Comer Children's Hospital receiving treatment. They also visited to increase awareness about advances in cancer treatment, early detection and prevention.

Among the resources they promoted was Cancer.net, the patient website of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The website is a comprehensive and authoritative source for cancer information that has been approved by oncologists.

Johnson and Miller spent time on the pediatric cancer floor talking with patients about their experiences competing at the Olympics and answering other questions about their favorite colors, foods, and what their lives are like now after the Olympics. Their visit was broadcast on televisions in patient rooms throughout the hospital. Children who were too sick to meet them in person talked to them on the phone.

"It felt amazing and it gave me goose bumps to be up there on the podium," 16-year-old Johnson told patients and their families when they asked her how she felt when she received her medals with the U.S. National Anthem playing in the background.

Miller, 31, added, "We are very hopeful that Chicago will get to have the 2016 Olympic games, and that we can come back to Chicago to see some younger athletes compete."

Johnson signed 10-year-old Michael Gustafson's athletic medal and his sister Bridget's gymnastics leotard. Michael lives in Woodridge and receives chemotherapy at Comer Children's Hospital for medulloblastoma, a brain tumor.

Wearing a costume halo, Jasmine Torres-Roberts, 6, of Portage, Ind., smiled broadly as she showed the world champions her intravenous bag for chemotherapy infusion. She is fighting rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissues.

"I really loved what you did, but I did not understand it when you twisted and then you flipped and then you went on the monkey bars," 10-year-old Tiffany Gipson told Johnson. Earlier in the day, a medical team had just performed bone surgery on Gipson to help her in her fight against Sickle cell anemia.

The highlight of the visit for many of the children came when Johnson let them try on gold and silver medals she won in Beijing this summer for balance beam, floor exercise, individual all-around, and team competitions.

In addition to her 2008 Olympic achievements, Johnson is 2007 World Women's Gymnastics Champion, and 2008 and 2007 U.S. National Champion. Miller is a 7-time Olympic medalist from the 1992 and 1996 Olympics and the most decorated American gymnast of all time. In 2007, she started the Shannon Miller Foundation dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.

Both their lives have been touched by cancer in their families: Johnson's grandmother is a 12-year survivor, and Miller's mother is currently battling cervical cancer.

About Cancer.net
Cancer.net brings the expertise and resources of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the voice of the world's cancer physicians, to people living with cancer and those who care for them. ASCO includes more than 25,000 oncologists throughout the world who are leading in advancing cancer care. All information was developed and approved by cancer doctors who are members of ASCO. Cancer.net is made possible by the ASCO Cancer Foundation, which provides support for cutting-edge cancer research, education, and patient information.

About the University of Chicago Medical Center
The University of Chicago Medical Center, established in 1927, is one of the nation's leading academic medical institutions. It consists of the renowned Pritzker School of Medicine; Bernard Mitchell Hospital, the primary adult patient care facility; Comer Children's Hospital, devoted to the medical needs of children; Chicago Lying-in Hospital, a maternity and women's hospital; and the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine, a state-of-the-art ambulatory-care facility with the full spectrum of preventive, diagnostic, and treatment functions. Care is provided by more than 700 attending physicians--most of whom are full-time University faculty members--620 residents and fellows, more than 1,000 nurses and 9,500 employees.

The Medical Center is consistently recognized as a leading provider of complex medical care. It is the only Illinois hospital ever to make the U.S.News & World Report Honor Roll, with eight clinical specialties--digestive disorders; cancer; endocrinology; neurology and neurosurgery; heart and heart surgery; kidney disease; geriatrics; and ear, nose and throat--ranked among the top 30 programs nationwide. The Medical Center was awarded Magnet status in 2007, the highest level of recognition for nursing care.

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Press Contact

John Easton
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john.easton@uchospitals.edu