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  • Jill Heilman

Class is in Session

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Halle’s legacy lives on! I recently had the opportunity to share Halle Grace’s life story, as well as our family’s message on behalf of the Halle Grace Foundation to future medical professionals. Last week I made a trip up to Gainesville to speak to the undergraduate Disease and Disability class at the University of Florida. There were approximately 200 medical pre-professionals (pre-med, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, dentistry, physician’s assistant, and nursing) attending a speech on the psychological and social aspects of pediatric disabilities and the impact it can have on the child and the family. Essentially, I was able to put a face on childhood, chronic illness – the face of my children. My Halle. My Neeley. My Ben.

Here are a few students I met at UF!

I was amazed at how quickly the 2 hour lecture went by, I felt like I had so much to share and so little time to share it in. My desire was to bring across the message of pediatric disabilities in a real, authentic, powerful format that may give future practitioners a glimpse into the lives of their patients. It is my hope that these students will never lose focus on what true, patient-centered care is about.

For me, the day was a lesson of healing. I was able to fulfill my promise to Halle to keep her name alive, to continue to talk to and about her to others and most importantly, I was able to fulfill her desire to educate others using her story. Her name. You see, Halle made a bucket list before she died. Here are some of the things she wanted to accomplish in her life:

Halle’s Bucket List –

  1. Meet Kelly Clarkson and Sam Smith and Taylor Swift (did not get that done).

  2. Read five classics including the Last of the Mohicans, Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird (that she did!)

  3. Go to California to see the redwoods (we were able to take her on the ride Soarin’ at Epcot and she virtually visited California).

  4. Watch Disney movies, even the ones we have seen before (she did this with her best friend, Caitlin and our family).

  5. Go to Europe (we took her to Epcot a couple months before she passed and we were able to immerse her in several cultures in one day).

  6. See the Grand Canyon (Ms. Kelly brought her a rock from there two days before she passed).

  7. Kiss a boy (oh how I wish she had been given this opportunity. She so wanted to one day get married and love someone special).

  8. Visit the 13 colonies (didn’t get there).

  9. Become a history teacher (Halle loved history and always wanted to be a teacher).

It was her 9th and last item on that list that meant so much to her. She felt passionate about the impact learning about the past could have on our future. She studied women’s rights, civil rights, the holocaust and so much more. She felt if we learned from our past mistakes and celebrated our successes that we could be better individuals in today’s society.

Well, CLASS IS IN SESSION and Halle Grace Heilman took over her job of teaching. In front of numerous future medical professionals, Halle and I were able to put a face of pediatric disability. We were able to share her life. Share her successes. Share her heart aches. Share positive stories of doctors, nurses and the like treating her with dignity and respect throughout her short life that was surrounded by the medical world on a daily basis. We were also able to share some difficult stories of condescending professionals and the bumps in the road of her medical journey, in hopes that others could use her life, her story, to guide them as they navigate their future careers in the medical profession.

I was overwhelmed by the response I had from that one class at UF. I had brought over 130 “Halle Grace” bracelets to give out after the lecture. I mentioned “if Halle’s story touched your heart and will shape your future career, please help yourself to a bracelet.” I was then surrounded by 30 – 40 students, commenting on the speech and sharing their own journey’s into the medical field. Within a few minutes, a student asked, “do you have any more Halle Grace bands?” They were all gone!

I am still in awe that so many people were touched by her life’s journey. But I shouldn’t be. She was one amazing girl and now an amazing teacher. I also gave away one of our Halle Grace Foundation shirts. I asked that if anyone wanted it, they could come get it. I also mentioned, Halle would love if a “cute boy” wore her name. Sure enough a few days later I received a picture from Ryan Johnson, he was wearing his Halle shirt with pride.

I received well over 100 emails from students that were in that lecture, granted, they were getting extra credit to give me feedback on the presentation and our website, but they were sincere, heartfelt messages of encouragement. They shared the impact Halle’s story, as well as our entire family's story, had on them and how they will keep her name alive as they entered the medical profession. Many students mentioned they were wearing their Halle Grace bracelet and sharing her story with others! I even had a few students share they had seen “bling” and thought of Halle.

Halle Grace – Congratulations! You are amazing teacher …and to think this is just the beginning of your career educating others.

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