The Family Room: Vermont girl turns near-tragic experience into a book

Jamie Heath, 17, poses outside her Barre home Aug. 2 with the book she authored for the Make-A-Wish foundation. (Jeb Wallace-Brodeur/The Times Argus)

When you see 17-year-old Jamie Heath’s bright eyes and sweet smile, you’d never guess that she just spent the last 10 years battling a life-threatening illness. Today she’s telling the story of how she came out on the other side of it, and how her worst nightmare turned into a dream come true. “It all started when I was 7 years old and I was exhibiting signs of brain bleeding,” she said by phone from her home in Barre. Doctors initially thought she had meningitis. But a CT scan revealed that her brain was actually bleeding. “I was in and out of consciousness,” she recalled. “The second time I knew it was happening, I just didn’t want to accept that I was having another stroke. They rushed me into the ER and put me in a medically induced coma and I woke up two days later with intubation, and it was really scary.” Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) was her actual diagnosis, a birth defect like a tangle of blood vessels near the thalamus. It caused her to lose her ability to walk, read or move her arm or fingers for a while. It wasn’t terminal, but it was a dark time, and her mother, Joanne Leclerc, learned an illness didn’t need to be terminal to qualify a child for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the nonprofit that grants big wishes for kids battling grave illnesses. “One thing led to another and I was swimming with the sea turtles in Hawaii and it was amazing,” Heath said. Just the thought of what to wish for gave Heath hope. She recently wrote a book about the impact that Make-A-Wish played in her recovery, after Make-A-Wish CEO Jamie Hathaway approached her about it. Heath teamed up with illustrator and ghost writer Leonard Wells Kenyon to write “Wishes Are Medicine: How Make-A-Wish Gave Me Hope and Helped Me Heal.” She is on a book tour throughout Vermont, including a stop at Phoenix Books Rutland at 2 Center St. at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12. These days she’s feeling pretty good, after finding out last fall that the AVM, which was being shrunk with radiation, is now so small that it will never bleed again. “I feel like I’m on top of the world,” Heath said. “I just wrote a book for goodness sakes. “I only saw the full book a couple of days ago because I wanted to wait and hold off as long as I could to be surprised,” she said. Full of bright, colorful illustrations, the story follows Heath and her pet turtle Bob, as she learns to walk and read again, and find hope in the face of her condition thanks to a wish granted to swim with sea turtles in Hawaii. The story contains several samples from Heath’s speech, which she wrote herself and regularly gives at Make-A-Wish events. “I think I’m going to give a little background for the parents to tell them what happened,” Heath said about the event at Phoenix Books. “Obviously kids aren’t going to know what a stroke is but if they have any questions I’ll be happy to answer them. “There’s a message for parents with children that are struggling,” she said. “Make-A-Wish helps people heal and it isn’t just for terminally ill children. It’s also for children with life-threatening illnesses like mine and for kids going through a hard time. I would just say to never give up because it always gets brighter. No matter how hard you think it is, I was depressed for about three years, really deep depression and I found help, and Make-A-Wish definitely helped me.” As for what’s next or if she plans to continue writing books, Heath said, "Whatever the future holds.” Copies of the book will be available for purchase and to have signed. For more information, please call 802-855-8078 or visit www.phoenixbooks.biz.

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