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  • Jill Heilman

A New Chapter


I recently had the opportunity to share Halle’s story and our family’s journey with 250 pre-medical professional students at the University of Florida. These are students hoping to become: doctors, nurses, physician assistants, OTs, PTs, speech pathologists, public health professionals and the like and I have been given the opportunity to speak to these groups of students over the past 11 years. More specifically, the past 3 years I have been able to share the same message of the highs and lows of raising children with chronic illnesses but now on behalf of the Halle Grace Foundation.

This speech allows me to share the human side of medicine, to educate future professionals on the psychological, social and emotional journey we take as a family with kids with chronic, serious, medical issues. Last week’s talk was a bit bitter/sweet though, as it was my final time sharing our story with this class. The professor teaching the course, Mary Ellen Young, is retiring this year and the University is restructuring the program so this large group setting will no longer be offered.

Knowing this would be my last time in this arena, I gave it my all and poured my heart out to these students – hoping and praying that maybe, even just a handful of them would hear what I hoped they would hear - that patients are people. That kids get sick but are still kids. That parents are tired and overwhelmed and scared. That families need love and compassion as much as we need medicine and treatment. I wanted these students to know the words they speak to a patient can have a lasting impact on a person’s life, for the positive OR the negative. I want these future professionals to want to make a positive impact on their patients. To be one of the “good guys.”

I was overwhelmed, to say the least, by the outpouring of feedback I received after my talk. Ok, full disclosure, they were offered extra credit if they emailed me feedback on my presentation, Facebook page or Foundation website….BUT the words they shared with me were from the heart. Many said:

  • “this is what I have been waiting to hear…how to talk to patients”

  • “you reminded me of why I am going into medicine”

  • “you taught me it is ok to show emotion with a patient”

  • “thank you for letting me see the human side of medicine”

  • “Halle seemed like an amazing girl, her story has taught me so much…she is a history teacher.”

  • “Ben and Neeley are showing me kids go through some serious stuff, but they still want to be kids!”

  • “I hope you continue to share Halle’s and your family’s story. More people need to hear your message. Don’t stop talking to people. Other students need to hear this too.”

  • “You motivated me to keep working hard in school, so I can be one of the good doctors you talked about.”

Well guess what, YOU ALL motivated me too! Sometimes I get bogged down by life. I am working a fulltime job now and teaching college classes online, while raising kids with medical issues and working on keeping my marriage strong and…you get the idea, life happens and I get busy too. In doing all this I have forgotten my passion and life’s mission: to keep Halle’s name alive; to share our family’s journey; to find a purpose behind the life we have been given.

I DO want to continue to share our story, while it may not be in the same format as I guest lectured at UF over the years, I want to find other opportunities to talk about journey we have taken. It may be continuing to share a message of compassion with other pre-medical students. It may be sharing a message of faith with church groups looking for encouragement. It may be sharing a message of hope with other parents facing a similar journey. It may be sharing our story through more frequent blog posts or maybe I will get the courage (and time) to write that book finally. I don’t know what doors will open next, but one thing I do know, I am ready to start knocking.

It is time for a NEW CHAPTER…one I know Halle is helping me write. One that Ben and Neeley are letting me write with them. One that is scary, but exciting. One that is raw and oh so real. One that I hope will keep you all turning the pages to see what is next.

Let’s see where God takes the Heilmans!


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