Sarah Heimann, a senior at Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., is looking ahead to college and a career in either social work or teaching. The compassion and patience she already shows in community service and educating others about living with a serious illness will no doubt help the 17-year-old excel in either field.
Sarah has autoimmune hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that occurs when immune cells attack the liver’s normal cells. She felt ill during spring break in April 2008, and when school resumed, she uncharacteristically fell asleep in class. When the school nurse noted that Sarah’s eyes looked a little yellow, her parents Doug and Lisa immediately sought medical help.
Because a pediatric liver specialist was unavailable in their area, the Heimann family came to Riley Hospital for Children, where a biopsy revealed that 90 percent of Sarah’s liver was damaged. A transplant seemed the obvious option, but Sarah has responded well to medications. For now she is off the transplant list.
The drugs, especially steroids to suppress her immune system, affect Sarah’s appearance, but she takes her classmates’ curiosity in stride.
“Sarah has been a great example to her peers as she deals with their questions and ignorance about her illness,” said guidance counselor Laura Robinson. “She greets life with a sense of humor, a smile and a positive attitude.”
How does she stay so upbeat?
“Since the beginning of this ordeal, I’ve had a saying in my head: I can’t change it, so why get upset about it?” Sarah said matter-of-factly.
Instead, she focuses on helping others. Sarah is a 2009 youth facilitator for Youth Leadership Fort Wayne, which offers leadership training to students in Allen County. She also serves on the advisory board of Cornerstone Youth Center and, with her family, is involved in planning and working on monthly service projects through a program at the center called BRASS, Building Relationships Around Successful Service.
“I like that I can serve my community while getting to hang out with my family,” Sarah says. She and her sister Abby, 15, are especially close.
Sarah is easygoing, adventurous and considerate, but above all, she is a loving child, says her father. And while her illness has been stressful, it also has brought the family closer together, Lisa Heimann adds. The family’s strength and unity has rallied others in their community to support them and Riley Hospital.