Each month, Central Penn Parent features a child who is doing great things. They pitch in to make a difference in their schools, places of worship and throughout their communities. They are a blessing to those around them—yet their efforts often go unrecognized. We want to thank them for a job well done! Each child receives a cape and a prize package from our sponsors.
Savannah Keenan is Penn State Proud—and wears it on her fingernails with blue and white nail polish.
But it’s not a sports team that has earned the devotion of the 10-year-old Lancaster girl. For Savannah, it’s all about THON and the fundraising the school does for pediatric cancer.
Savannah knows way too much about The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon and the millions of dollars it has raised for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Children’s Hospital. The youngster has invested her own time and money into raising funds to help children battling cancer. Her motivation: “Because they are just like me,” she said. “And they don’t know what’s happening to them.”
But Savannah knows. She is a cancer survivor.
A tiny miracle
Savannah, the daughter of Shawn and Kimona Keenan, got an early start in life. Born premature at just 27 weeks, Savannah weighed just 1 pound 11 ounces.
She spent more than three months in the neonatal unit hooked up to wires and tubes before being sent home with an oxygen tank and instructions for regular injections to help her tiny body build antibodies.
Despite being diagnosed with serious food allergies, lung disease (a result of the premature birth) and having to receive regular breathing treatments, Savannah began to thrive.
But at age 5, she spiked a high fever and had seizures and was rushed to the hospital. The diagnosis: hepatoblastoma—a very rare pediatric liver cancer.
A fight for life—again
Doctors removed half of Savannah’s liver, her gall bladder and a 3-pound tumor. “It was a lot for a kid in kindergarten to be diagnosed with,” Kimona said.
After surgery came chemotherapy, which caused permanent hearing loss and caused the youngster to require hearing aids.
While she was battling the disease in her body, Savannah and her family did what they could to help the cause.
They participated in their first THON in 2009 as a Four Diamonds Family.
The following year, Savannah decided to donate her birthday and Christmas money to THON, and in 2011 and 2012, she collected $122 in spare change for THON.
Savannah is stronger than ever, helping others every chance she can. Last year, she got approval from her principal, Dr. Barbara Andrews at E.R. Martin Elementary School, to host a jeans day to benefit her Penn State Pyramid THON organization. Thanks to her generous schoolmates, Savannah raised $360.
“Savannah is an amazing student who does her very best to consistently carry out her daily responsibilities at home, school and as a good citizen,” said Mary Louise Cook, learning support teacher at the school. “Each and every day, as I carry out my main hallway duty, I see Savannah whiz by me at a very lively pace with a big smile as she heads for her classroom.”
Her next plan: to hold a min-THON in the district.
Giving and growing
Savannah is no stranger to helping out a good cause. Before age 3, she was involved in the March of Dimes as an ambassador and collected change. She also helped make blankets for the NICU at Penn State Children’s Hospital and Women & Babies Hospital, and she’s participated in a Relay for Life.
Savannah, who is now in remission, has no plans to stop fundraising and her motivation is simple: “I’m happy to be alive,” she said.
But she also has other activities and ambitions.
Savannah has done modeling (you may have seen her as a live mannequin at Old Navy or on the runway at Park City Mall). And when she gets older, she wants to be a veterinarian or a zookeeper.
Her advice to others who want to give back: “Save up money. Learn how to make blankets and volunteer,” she said with a grin.
Andrea Ciccocioppo is editor of Central Penn Parent.