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Former NICU Baby Announced as 2016/2017 Saskatchewan Ambassador for Champions Program Presented by Walmart

It’s the kind of news that strikes fear into the heart of any parent-to-be. Derek and Vicki Gross were no exception when, at 27 weeks into her pregnancy, Vicki was told she was going into labour. For five long days, medical staff did everything they could to delay labour. In spite of doctors’ best efforts, baby Calla came 3 months early, weighing just over 2 pounds.

Newborn Calla Gross in NICU

Derek and Vicki only had a moment to touch their daughter’s hand through the isolette before she was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). What followed was a roller coaster ride of unknown equipment and terminology, ventilators, CPAP, a blood transfusion, and feeding difficulties. Vicki held baby Calla for the first time when she was 26 days old. It took a full two months in hospital before Calla, weighing 4 pounds, was healthy enough to go home. Calla’s medical challenges continued, including a diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy, a seizure, ankle braces, physiotherapy, and multiple trips to the hospital for respiratory issues, pneumonia and rotovirus.

Fast forward eleven years, Calla Gross of Saskatoon is this year’s Saskatchewan Champion for the Champions Presented by Walmart program. The North American program, organized by Children’s Miracle Network, honours remarkable children who have triumphed despite severe medical challenges. Each Champion acts as an international ambassador for his or her Children’s Miracle Network member hospital.

11-year-old Champion Child Calla Gross

Calla’s medical experience forever changed the Gross family, inspiring them to give back. Calla joins the Children’s Hospital Radiothon every year and has raised thousands of dollars through the donation of piggy bank funds, birthday money, and more.

“I raise money because I know what it’s like to be in the hospital,” explains Calla. “I want other kids’ experiences to be not so scary.”

“Calla is a remarkable young lady who has overcome so much in her young life,” says Brynn Boback-Lane, President and CEO of the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan. “Even at her sickest, she has always been an inspiration to others, bringing a positive perspective to difficult situations. We are so proud of her determination to create a better future for other children across Saskatchewan.”

In March, Calla and her family will attend Children’s Miracle Network festivities in Toronto along with other Canadian Champions. The family will then travel to DisneyWorld in Orlando to meet with Champions from across North America. Calla replaces ten-year-old Cohyn Wells of Moose Jaw, who underwent his 15th surgery while acting as Champion.

“There was a time in hospital where we wondered if she would be able to walk and if her brain would be functioning,” explains Calla’s dad Derek. “To see how far she has come, we’re just so proud of her and how she’s giving back. I don’t think there are any limits to what she can do.”

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