Although many University of Richmond students pass Jerry Clemmer, the general manager of dining services, several times a day, few are aware of an inspirational battle that changed his life.
Five years ago, while sitting in a hospital room with his wife, Deleker, Clemmer received news he would never forget: his oldest daughter, Hannah, had a 5 percent chance of survival.
On Hannah's eighth birthday, her disease was officially diagnosed as Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She is now a 13-year-old cancer survivor who has endured a leg amputation, several strokes and liver and bone marrow failure, among other complications. On April 24, Hannah will walk in a 5K to support other children who are battling cancer.
"She's our little miracle child," Clemmer said.
After her official diagnosis, Hannah immediately began procedures no father imagines for his first-born daughter: chemotherapy treatments, steroids and anti-nausea prescriptions. On Father's Day, less than a month after she was diagnosed with leukemia, Hannah went into a septic shock in response to a widespread bacterial infection.
"Her heart stopped in my arms," Clemmer said. "I can remember looking up to the ceiling and saying out loud, 'God, please bring her back as my Father's Day gift.'" Clemmer and his wife waited in the critical care room while a team of nurses and doctors rushed to perform CPR on Hannah's limp, lifeless body.
Hannah survived, but she would never be the same. Her leg, which had turned black from a serious infection, was amputated to save her life. She had several strokes, her liver failed and she was placed on life support.
A kidney specialist told Clemmer and his wife that no person had survived more than 32 days on 24-hour dialysis. Doctors essentially told Clemmer that his daughter would not survive this battle.
"We went outside the hospital, sat on a bench far away, and cried together while making funeral plans," Clemmer said.
A few weeks after she went on life support, Hannah regained consciousness, defying all predictions. She awoke in a hospital bed to a bandaged wound, and she could no longer perceive sound. Due to the adverse effects of powerful antibiotics, Hannah lost all of her hearing.
"Being the father, I had to be strong and support everyone, especially my wife," Clemmer said.
Hannah spent 110 days in hospitals, undergoing various treatments. Two years later, however, she was playing softball again, Clemmer said.
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"No matter how much pain she underwent, she was determined to get back to school and play softball," Clemmer said. "She's a very independent and strong girl."
Shortly after her amputation, Clemmer received a personal phone call from the New York Yankees. The team had heard about Hannah's inspirational battle, and wanted to meet her.
Clemmer, a long-term Yankees fan, went with Hannah, his younger daughter and his wife, Deleker, to Baltimore to meet Joe Torre, the former manager of the Yankees. Torre had a pleasant conversation with Hannah, and she met several players, Clemmer said.
Hannah's diagnosis changed Clemmer and his family forever. It brought them closer to their faith, and further united them with their community.
When Hannah was wheelchair-ridden, the family had trouble getting her up the stairs leading into their home. Without telling Clemmer, his neighbors received a permit and collectively built a ramp leading into the house.
A week later, Clemmer said he woke up to trucks parked outside of his home. The drivers told Clemmer that someone, who wished to remain anonymous, donated money to have his driveway paved, making it easier to get Hannah inside.
"And I thought, what could I possibly do to repay them?" Clemmer said. "The only way I could repay such acts of kindness was to also do good deeds for others."
Since Hannah's diagnosis, Clemmer has been an active member of ASK, Assistance Support Kindness, an organization that enhances the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Department at the Virginia Commonwealth University Health Systems in Richmond; the Lion's Club, the world's largest service club organization; and the Epiphany Catholic Church.
Clemmer is the president of his parish council, which donates $150,000 every year to various organizations. He also served as the president of the Brandermill-Midlothian-Woodlake Lion's Club during 2007-2008, where he raised funds for the deaf and the blind.
"We were never involved in things like this until Hannah got sick," Clemmer said. "It was like a wake up call, and I get more from it than I could ever explain."
Since her diagnosis, Hannah has acclimated to life with a prosthetic leg and impaired hearing. She now has a cochlear implant that allows her to hear, and her cancer has been in remission for years. She is very involved with drama and ASK, and lives as normally as she can.
Hannah visits young, discouraged cancer patients and gives them hope, Clemmer said. She also works in concession stands during baseball and football games for charity.
"Hannah helped raise $327 for the Lion's Club ... in one day," Clemmer said proudly. "All the proceeds went toward people who couldn't afford hearing aides and eye glasses."
On Saturday, April 24, Hannah will participate in ASK's 5th annual 5K. The walk/run is presented by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and directly supports local children who battle cancer. This will be the fifth time that Hannah participates in the race, Clemmer said.
Hannah is currently raising money for the 5K event, which will take place at Short Pump Town Center.
"I think every one needs to realize that when there's a disaster like this, there's always hope," Clemmer said. "Great things can come from something like this, but it takes a lot of hard work."
Contact staff writer Fred Shaia at email@example.com.
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