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Art With Heart 

As events happen that we cannot control, we wonder, "What if the younger generation had to deal with all that we have to?" Each generation feels the next couldn’t cope. In this time of war, economic recession and a general decline in the country, how can we expect the next generation to step up to the plate?

Many times we feel we are doing everything we can to make a difference in the community and in the lives of others. An open pocketbook, a meeting or two, a phone call to raise awareness of a cause—these are a few of the things that take up time in our lives.

I was asked recently to help a young girl, Amanda Cregmiles, paint a picture to be auctioned off for a charity that’s close to her heart. I paint, but I have never tried to teach someone else and felt this was not my thing. After much cajoling, I agreed. But I needed a space, supplies and most importantly, someone who could oversee this project. I told Susan Bridges, executive director at the Art League of Bonita Springs about my dilemma. After she heard about Amanda, she offered it all.

We agreed to meet on a Saturday morning at 10 o’clock. I called Amanda’s mother, Rebecca, and told her about the arrangements. She excitedly told me that Amanda likes to draw and looked forward to painting a picture that could be auctioned off at a charity event to benefit Barbara’s Friends-The Children’s Hospital Cancer Fund for the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation.

Amanda arrived at the Art League with her father, Wilbur, at exactly 10 on Saturday, Feb. 28. A tall, thin 13-year-old with long, brown hair, she was carrying a sketch pad and pencil. She was very polite and seemed shy when meeting Susan and me, but her father put her at ease, and we went off to the studio.

Amanda was impressed with the setup and supplies, and Susan gave her art books and pictures from which to choose a subject. It was obvious that she is very independent and has a mind of her own. This independence and strength obviously helped Amanda get through her own long bout with leukemia.

She decided to paint petunias, and Susan showed her the paints and the mixtures that could be made. She labored over the drawing, and then they started. Wilbur and I were critics—eliciting various looks from the budding artist. I was very useful emptying the water jars and getting other brushes.

Amanda stood and painted for three hours, listening to Susan’s pointers while I photographed the progress. The painting was really good, and both Susan and Amanda were happy with the results. Amanda will speak at the auction about her involvement with The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and how her life was saved there.

Her illness brought Amanda and her family to the hospital for many weeks of treatment, where she would usually stay for several days at a time. Amanda went into a coma for 17 days and had to be put on an adult ventilator, which was dangerous for a child. The family never gave up, though they were told to say goodbye. She became the first child to get off of the ventilator healthy. Her family said their prayers, and the staff at the hospital made it happen. When asked about the staff, Amanda says all were good—but Bruce the orderly was the best.

The treatments are over, but not the trips to check her bone marrow to see if she remains free of cancer. Amanda is very grateful for her cure and has been helping raise money for the Lymphoma Association and The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida ever since. She speaks at all the Cattleman’s Association Balls in Fort Myers, Naples and Marco Island. In 2008, she was nominated Girl of the Year for the Lymphoma Association.

Amanda made up all her classes and is in the seventh grade at Golden Gate Middle School. Instead of letting her hair fall out over the course of the treatment, she shaved her head so it would be gone quickly. She returned this way to school, where she had been active in sports and music. Sports have taken a back seat because she has muscle issues with one leg, but she continues to play the clarinet.

Amanda could show many of us how wonderful it is to give back for the blessings we receive. She enjoyed creating the painting. She even gave up going to Wet ’n Wild Water Park in Orlando to do it. She speaks to support those who have helped her. At 13, she is an example for not only her generation but for ours. I’ve stopped worrying about the younger generation because given a chance, they will go a long way toward solving the problems the older generation has caused.

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