Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase. -Martin Luther King, Jr
This is a story about faith. It is a story about hope. And more than anything, it is a story about love; the deeply profound love of a mother for her child. Beverley Jean Blanc was born in Lousiville, Kentucky in 1971 and moved to Moline, IL as a young child. She lived the typical life of most kids, going to school and working as a teenager at the local Hy-Vee grocery store. After high school graduation, she had an exciting opportunity to travel to Europe to perform with her choir. Life was good for the young girl. Beverley attended Blackhawk College in Moline for two years when she married Adam. After the wedding, the newlyweds moved to Macomb, IL when he became a student at Western Illinois University.
During this time, she worked two jobs while he went to school. Upon learning that she was pregnant, what should have been a cause to rejoice, was met with the news that he wanted to leave her. They agreed to counseling in hopes of saving their marriage. And things did seem to look up. Bev continued working and taking care of the new life growing inside her. At twelve weeks, during a routine prenatal visit, she was told that her baby had stopped developing at around seven or eight weeks. The child had died. Completely devasted with this news, Bev and her husband moved back to Moline where Adam had secured a job with the Rock Island, IL Police Department. Soon after his return from the Police Academy, Bev suffered a second miscarriage. Her third pregnancy would prove the charm, however, and, while frightened at the very real prospect of losing another child, she was also extremely happy that this pregnancy seemed to be a healthy one. After all, Bev deserved some happiness. Her euphoria was short-lived, though, when one morning, Adam simply announced that he didn’t love her anymore. Bev was five months pregnant.She found herself back at her parents’ house, regrouping. But not for long. Adam got the shock of his life, I’m sure, when Bev returned to their home, woke him out of a peaceful slumber and said, “You’re leaving me and your unborn child. Get your shit and get out.” Beverley Jean Blanc was a new person from that day forward.
Little Aubree Nichole was born on March 3, 1997 at 12:40 AM, weighing in at a healthy 6 pounds, 2 ounces and stretching out to 19 inches. During the birth, she suffered oxygen deprivation as a result of the umbilical cord being wrapped around her neck and leg. At two months of age, the rollercoaster ride began. Earlier in the day, Aubree’s wheezing had concerned Bev, sending them to the doctor’s office where she was diagnosed with an enlarged spleen. The next stop was the local hospital in Moline where further evaluation led to a diagnosis of an enlarged liver and a call to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, which immediately sent an ambulance sixty-four miles to pick Aubree up and transport her back, arriving at 3:30 AM the following morning. The continued diagnoses only grew more dire. In less than twenty-four hours and at the tender age of two months, it had been determined that little Aubree suffered from an enlarged heart, a benign tumor in her liver and high blood pressure. Two months later, she was back at the Children’s Hospital where Bev learned a new word: Osteopetrosis. Most people are familiar with Osteoporosis, a bone disease marked by weakening and brittle bones. Infantile Osteopetrosis is the opposite, a rare bone disease in which the bones are very dense, thus resulting in shortened stature and a myriad of other problems, including blindness and hearing loss as the cranial bones pinch facial nerves. Doctors warned that without a bone marrow transplant, Aubree would not survive past age two. Further testing revealed that she had already lost vision in right eye and was beginning to lose sight in the left.
Surgery was performed in an effort to save the remaining sight in her left eye., which ten hours later, they learned had been unsuccessful. Four-month-old Aubree was completely blind. In late October, at seven months of age, Bev and her young daughter moved into the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City as Aubree prepared for chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and a bone marrow transplant. After determining that neither parent was a match for the transplant, they held out hope that a perfect match could be found at the Bone Marrow Bank. A match was made and surgery performed, but again, the surgery which held such hope for the desperate young mother resulted in the news that it had not been successful. Little Aubree was released to go home just days before her first Thanksgiving, but a seizure sent her back to the hospital instead of home with family.
It’s funny how our experiences can profoundly change our perspective. One year prior, Bev would have said that Christmas spent at home with family and her little girl marveling at the sparkling lights on the tree was a given. Now, it was a miracle. The following year was spent in and out of the hospital treating more seizures, more illness, and a second bone marrow transplant. Finally, good news: the second transplant proved to be successful and on October 25, 1999, Aubree Nichole Dunn was pronounced cured of her Osteopetrosis. And here is a little icing on the cake: Aubree is the fourth child to be treated at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, the second to be transplanted…and the first to survive. One month following her transplant, they met the man who donated his perfectly matched bone marrow. Twice. The man who saved Aubree’s life. The man who selflessly shared life-saving marrow for a stranger, was a stranger no more. Tom Sandersfeld became a cherished friend for life.
Bev thought it impossible to be happier than she was at that moment in her life. But, as she knows all too well, life has a way of proving you wrong. This time, though, fate would bring a joyous change. While working at the Iowa State Bank, she had caught the eye of a man who would soon show her what it means to be truly loved. George Werner was quite smitten with Bev and knew he had to meet this pretty young woman. So in March 2002, a whirlwind romance began with their first date, which started out typically enough…dinner filled with hours of conversation followed by a movie. Of course, with Bev, nothing is typical. Around midnight, as their date was wrapping up, she called the hospital to check on Aubree, and was informed that her daughter was still up. George offered to drive Bev to the hospital and upon walking into the room, Aubree asked, “Is your date over yet?” George came forward and responded, “Hi Aubree, I’m your mom’s date.” Seven months later, in November, George met Bev’s father at the Thanksgiving Festival of Trees in the Quad Cities, which straddle the Illinois and Iowa border, and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. On Christmas day 2002, George formally proposed to Bev in front of her family. One year later on November 8, 2003 and almost five years after her divorce from Adam, George and Bev were married and soon after, moved into their newly built home to start their new life together. March 13, 2005, their family of three happily became a family of four as they welcomed little Elinor Marie Werner. George has raised Aubree as his own daughter and always says he has two daughters. There is no distinction between the girls. They are both his and that speaks volumes about the kind of man George Werner is.
As Aubree grew into a sweet little girl, she learned Braille and attended school. Life was good. Life was finally normal. Until a new diagnosis was made for the now thirteen-year-old girl. Thyroid cancer. While Bev cried, Aubree comforted. By this time, however, Aubree knew what she was made of and reassured her mother that she’d get through this too. And she did.
Aubree is now a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl, cancer-free and not afraid of a fight. She has defied all odds. Since her original diagnosis, there have only been a little over 300 patients diagnosed with Osteopetrosis in the world. That’s right – in the WORLD. She may be small, she may be blind, but she is one kick-ass human being. In nineteen years, she’s survived a rare and deadly bone disease, two bone marrow transplants, seizures, blindness, and cancer. So don’t ever tell her she can’t do something because she will only meet that as a challenge accepted.
There is one more thing that Aubree wants more than anything else in the world and I’m hoping it’s something we can all help this incredible young woman achieve. She loves watching The Ellen Show with Ellen Degeneres. And she loves to sing. Her dream is to sing on The Ellen Show. (And if she could meet Taylor Swift also, she would probably never ask for another thing in life!) SO, C’MON PEOPLE!! Let’s help Aubree get on The Ellen Show! I plan to send this post to the show’s website and I am also sharing Aubree’s Facebook Page: “Help Get Aubree On The Ellen Show” with you and ask that you check out her page and click on the video of her at thirteen, singing her heart out. Share her video. Share her page. Let’s share Aubree with the world and HELP HER GET ON THE ELLEN SHOW!!