Elizabeth “Lizzi” Burke had been looking forward to her 13th birthday all year long. She shares a birthday with her beloved baby cousin, and she couldn’t wait for the party.
Instead, she spent the day in the hospital. Her cystic fibrosis had flared up again.
Lizzi shed some tears of disappointment, but they didn’t last long thanks to her caregivers at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. “At midnight, all the nurses came in and started singing ‘Happy Birthday,’” Lizzi recalls. “After I woke up, a respiratory therapist brought me donuts and a whole group came in and they all sang to me again!”
Those moments, to Lizzi’s parents Belinda and Ralph Burke, symbolize Riley’s dedication to bringing joy and hope to kids. “That was a big deal to her,” Belinda says. “She was so upset, but they made her feel really special.”
Child Life Specialists, Riley’s donor-funded “comfort experts,” have made a huge impact on Lizzi. “Any time you’re bored they come and bring you fun stuff to do,” Lizzi says. “It’s really nice because they bring my brother Noah stuff to do too, so we can both do stuff together.”
Child Life Specialist Kellie Parker has been struck by Lizzi’s selflessness and strength. “Lizzi is such an inspiring young lady! She lives each day fearlessly and to the fullest,” says Parker. “Lizzi is always caring for those around her. She leads a life with great obstacles, but wears a contagious smile and courageous spirit.”
The “great obstacles” in Lizzie’s routine include: enzyme medications to help with digestion; four daily breathing treatments through a mask; and 30-minute sessions twice per day wearing a vest that pounds her chest to loosen secretions. Riley Pediatric Pulmonologist John Stevens, M.D., oversees Lizzi’s cystic fibrosis care, and Pediatric Otolaryngologists Bruce Matt, M.D., and John Dahl, M.D., have performed a total of five sinus surgeries.
It’s a lot for a teen to manage, but the support Lizzi receives at Riley helps focus on the things she loves: singing, dancing, swimming, sewing, drawing, making slime, riding her bike and taking evening walks with her family. For other kids facing medical obstacles, this Riley Champion has some advice: “Just make the best of it. Stay positive.”