BY JANET SEITZ
Sometimes life seems like a three-ring circus. But a real three-ring circus, such as the November Ansar Shrine Circus in Springfield, can offer family fun and provide some stability in the life of a child and family.
“We are known for our funny little hats, our little cars and our clowns, but all of that has a greater purpose,” said Rusty Petty, a Shriner since 2012. “Every time you see a Shriner, whether it be in a parade, a dinner or a fundraiser, they are working to not only raise money but to bring awareness to our amazing hospital system. Shriners are a hard-working group ranging from politicians and doctors to mechanics and farmers who come together for a common goal, and that is our hospitals.”
Potentate Rich Smith is the head officer for Ansar, one of five Shriners centers in Illinois and part of nearly 200 internationally. Smith explained the charitable fraternity is dedicated to the care of children suffering from burns, orthopedic problems, metabolic bone diseases, spinal problems and cleft lip and palate. “Our hospitals provide the best care available in these areas, regardless of the parents’ ability to pay.”
Ansar has a membership of more than 2,800 people, spanning central Illinois from Quincy and Pittsfield in the west to Paris and Danville in the east. Smith noted in this large area they have 20 clubs splitting the territory into geographical segments, and within these clubs, have 28 parading units.
The often-heard circus call, “Step right this way folks!” delights children and adults alike. Yet, for some children, just taking a step can be a challenge.
Meghan Tippy of Pawnee said, “Someone once told me that miracles almost never happen all at once. Rather, they happen in tiny increments, one small step at a time.” She is witness to that statement. Her daughter, Breanna, was diagnosed in 2012 at age two with hydrocephalus, a condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain, and cerebral palsy, from the resulting pressure. At the time of her diagnosis, Tippy recalled, Breanna could not use her legs at all and army-crawled, dragging her legs behind her. They were referred to Shriners Hospital in St. Louis for assessing and treating her gross motor delay and mobility impairment.
“The patient experience at Shriners was immeasurably better than typical doctor appointments,” said Tippy. In a few hours, they saw a variety of medical personnel, therapists specializing in cerebral palsy-related disorders and an on-site orthotics clinic. “It gave me a lot of confidence that her medical and mobility needs would be comprehensively evaluated, covered and monitored.”
Breanna has been receiving orthotics annually for six years from Shriners. They work with her local physical therapists and have provided a wide variety of braces as she has grown and developed strength and balance, contributing to her success and taking unassisted, independent steps this year. While Breanna relies primarily on a walker instead of a wheelchair at school, she can now stand independently for several minutes at a time and continues to develop strength and endurance. “I credit Shriners with a large part of Breanna’s miracle story,” said her mother. Now eight years old, Breanna is a favorite with the Shriners clowns, according to Tippy.
“As Shriners, we work 362 days a year to raise funds and to bring awareness to our hospitals,” said Petty. “The circus is three days that we work to support ourselves and our local clubs and units. We use this money for administrative costs, club and unit insurance, and operating expenses so that our Shriners can continue to go out and support the hospitals. The circus is our continued way of saying thank you to central Illinois for their years of supporting us.”
More than 1.3 million patients have been treated since the first Shriners hospital opened in 1922, treating more than 130,000 patients annually. The number for Ansar is much larger, said Petty, but in the greater Springfield area they send between 130-150 patients down to the St. Louis hospital each year.
Alex Rabin is a Springfield attorney who serves as chairman of the board of governors of the St. Louis Hospital and the first Ansar Shriner to enjoy the privilege of being chairman. Rabin said, “Seeing the impact that Shriners has on children’s lives is our reward. Spending time around the patients and families is amazing, heartwarming and inspiring. Shriners Hospitals for Children–St. Louis has a deep connection to central Illinois…The Shriners are dedicated to making these miracles happen for children.”
For more information on the upcoming circus, visit http://ansarshrine.com/shrine-circus.
Janet Seitz is a local communications professional, writer and artist. To share your story, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.