Kremmling " After surviving cancer, teen fights for others
February 3, 2009
By appearance, Leslie Hirt is a healthy, energetic teenager. Unless she told you, you wouldn’t know the West Grand sophomore is a survivor of a rare form of cancer.
After beating the odds, Leslie, 15, started a campaign to raise money for Pennies for Patients, which helps children with cancer.
“I think it’s better that they save a kid,” said the daughter of Kathy Hirt and Johnny Hirt. “Why not save a kid who is just experiencing life.”
The community is invited to learn more about the Pennies for Patients and Leslie’s battle during a school assembly at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, at West Grand High School.
“We have a (Pennies for Patients) video and Leslie will be giving a speech,” said Melanie Schmidt, West Grand High social studies teacher and Student Council adviser.
West Grand High School classes will compete to raise the most money during the month of February. If the school raises $400, the winning class will earn a pizza party.
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Student Council is helping organize the event. Leslie is the chairperson.
“If anyone wants to donate they can come to the office,” Schmidt said. “We have it all set up; you can donate your change or dollars.”
Leslie approached Todd Bittner, school counselor, and Principal Philip Bonds a year after she was diagnosed to help raise funds for Pennies for Patients. She sells granola bars, Oreos and other snacks at school each day and donates the money to help child cancer victims.
“They gave me no shot at even surviving it at all,” Hirt said. “I might as well help out people who are in that position.
“Subconsciously, I want to cure it so I don’t have to die from it. I never really thought about death. When you’re young like I am, you don’t want to die.”
On Sept. 6, 2007, Leslie was diagnosed with microscopic polyarteritis nodosa, “a serious blood vessel disease in which small and medium-sized arteries become swollen and damaged,” according to the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission.
“It’s a rare form of leukemia,” Leslie said.
She knew something was wrong when her eyes were bloodshot, she was throwing up blood, passing out, tired, thirsty and not eating. She went to the doctor “and they told me I had a sinus infection,” she said.
A week later, she went back to Kremmling Memorial Hospital.
“I was losing blood, but they didn’t know where it was going or why I was losing it … They realized within a few hours I was going to die. So they shipped me (to Denver) to the pediatric intensive care unit, and within five minutes I was under sedation, they had me getting blood transfusions.
“The first night they only gave me a 10 percent chance of surviving, and then once they saw how well I was doing they gave me a 30 percent chance of surviving, and completing chemo and stuff.
“They expected me to be in the induced coma for two to three weeks, and I was able to breathe on my own within three days. They expected me to be in recovery for at least three to four months, and I was out of the hospital in six days total.
“They think I’m a miracle child. Not only recovering so well, but to not have relapsed or anything, and just to respond so well to everything. And they think it’s my positive attitude that helps keep me alive.”
It’s very unlikely for young girls to have the disease, she said.
“The only reason they caught it was because there was this other kid in there, Michael (from Parker), and he had my disease too, and he was 13, our rooms were right next to each other,” she said. “We would write notes and have our nurses passed them back and forth. We were writing in our notes to each other how all the doctors think we’re going to die and stuff. We got to go through chemo together, and we still talk.”
She did chemo every Friday for five weeks.
What her life is like now
“At any given moment it can come back and just kill me on the spot,” Leslie said. “I’ll only have these weird symptoms for like a few hours and then I’ll be dead.
“It does suck sometimes living with my disease … but it’s better that you get to live because most people aren’t given that right. It’s stupid that people have to die from something like cancer.”
A side-effect of her disease is muscle and joint problems.
“For right now, they think they have it under control,” said Leslie, who is in remission. “I’ve gone from like regular happy teenage, to all these problems, but still happy. It really makes you like cherish the good times, because I really feel like crap most the time. When you really are honest to God happy, it makes it so much better.”
Leslie has gotten used to pain.
During the interview she had a headache, heartburn, her throat had a spasm and her wrist hurt.
“I sprain my wrists and my ankles a lot because of the side-effects,” she said. “Usually I’m really nauseous, I’m always really tired no matter how much I sleep. I get muscle spasms in my throat a lot from taking so many pills. It feels like the pills are like incinerating in my throat, the pills go down and your throat just starts having cramps … I take like seven medications just to function on a regular basis.”
Even though the doctors recommended she only do half-days of school, she is going full-time.
“I don’t like being at home,” Leslie said. “I’d rather be around people. I just don’t like being alone. I got like a lot of support at school, like it’s nice to feel cared about and stuff. It’s just a happy place, I like school in general because all my friends are here.”
When she was in the hospital her tech teacher hand delivered a bag full of cards to her. Her aunt also went on the 700 Club show to ask people to pray for her.
“My little brother has always been like everything to me,” Leslie said. “He’s just such a happy kid. He’ll like do all this stuff for me just to make me feel better. He’s just a good kid and so helpful.”
Leslie will continue going to the hospital every six weeks to six months for check ups.
“They think it’s my positive attitude that helps keep me alive,” she said. “My doctor said I was one of the happiest kids he’s ever seen in the ICU.”
– Katie Looby covers government and education for the Sky-Hi Daily News. You may reach her at 887-3334 ext. 19601 or firstname.lastname@example.org.