I met Hannah Sivley at our stake girl’s camp. She is in a neighboring ward and her infectious smile and generous heart immediately drew me in. When you meet Hannah, you know right away how special she is. She loves freely and is concerned with the well-being of everyone around her. She is thoughtful and earnest. She just radiates joy, and is truly an inspiration.
From the moment she first drew breath, Hannah has faced incredible challenges. Her mother jokes that she only had 30 seconds of Hannah’s life without stress, and the rest have been fraught with worry. Hannah was born with a large tennis-ball sized tumor on the back of her neck. Immediately, doctors started running tests and discovered that Hannah had Turner Syndrome.
Individuals with Turner Syndrome typically have a lot of health and cardiac problems, and Hannah has been no exception. She underwent her first heart surgery as a newborn at five weeks of age.
When she was four months old, she lost her hearing and went completely deaf.
Through a miracle of our Heavenly Father, Hannah’s hearing returned five months later.
When Hannah was one, through another miracle, doctors discovered a life-threatening problem in her heart. She had a severely dilated ascending aorta. It was so bad that the doctors in Texas warned her mother that they were not equipped to operate on it. This type of heart problem is not typically seen in kids her age and there were no specialists here available to help. At any moment, Hannah could go into congestive heart failure. Doctors monitored her condition and her family prayed that when the time came, they would know what to do. Her heart was checked often.
Right after Hannah turned 12, an echocardiogram showed that the problem had progressed, and she needed surgery as soon as possible. Hannah and her mother found a specialist at Johns Hopkins in Maryland who would be able, and was skilled enough, to perform the surgery. With her family living in Texas, having the surgery and recovering on the East Coast was going to mean a long separation for the family.
With Hannah’s life on the line, however, the family had very little choice in the matter. Hannah and her mom flew to Maryland and had the consultation with the surgeon. The surgery date was set, and plans were underway. The night before Hannah and her mom were to fly home after the consult, her dad was called in to meet with his supervisor at work. A job had opened up in the Washington, D.C. office and her dad’s boss wondered if he was interested. It was not only the job opportunity the family had been praying for, but it was a promotion and they needed him to start right around the time of Hannah’s surgery. Heavenly Father’s hand, once again, at work in this sweet girl’s life. The Sivley family moved to D.C., and were kept together for the year during Hannah’s surgery and recuperation.
Nine days post-op from open heart surgery, Hannah attended girl’s camp as a first year (under the close watch of the camp nurse and her mom, of course).
Hannah has faced many trials and tribulations in her life. She has a myriad of health issues that need constant watch and care. She’s had heart surgery twice – and will definitely face it again as she gets older. She does not let her physical struggles get her down. She participates in cheer and dance. She has many friends and is well-liked wherever she goes.
When I asked Hannah how she manages to endure all of these hardships, she looked me in the eye and said simply, “I’m never going to escape it. I just have to smile my way through.”
There is incredible wisdom in this beautiful 14-year-old girl. She has had more adversity in her young life than most people face in a lifetime, but she is resigned to enduring her trials cheerfully. She doesn’t wallow in self-pity or let her limitations define her. She chooses joy. As President Thomas S. Monson reminded us in October 2008, “Let us relish life as we live it, find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family.”
Hannah finds joy in the unusually hard journey she has been handed in this life.
She finds joy, and shares it with others. She is my hero.