Please, thank a Shriner

While I was sitting on my couch watching television last week, a commercial came on that hit close to home.


Cole Benz | Editor
Cole Benz | Editor

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor |

While I was sitting on my couch watching television last week, a commercial came on that hit close to home.It was an ad for Shriner’s Hospitals, asking for donations.Now, many people know the Shriner’s primarily from their parade-driving cars and tasseled hats. But, the Shriner’s true purpose is about helping children with physical disabilities.I was a Shriner kid. And I have a disability.By looking at my outward appearance it is hard to tell that I required the organization’s services. That’s because I have the fortunate ability of hiding my scars by simply putting on a shirt every morning.When I was born I was in and out of hospitals for the first five years of my life. Beginning when I was only an hour old I had the first of 12 operations, the previous procedure unrelated to the next one. Really just a string of bad luck in the health department.Due to those operations I developed a massive amount of scar tissue on the left side of my body.This caused my spine to curve as I grew because the tissue was pulling me down.In stepped the Shriners.During a free screening at the local chapter in my hometown of Fargo, I was examined and referred on to the Minneapolis location. From there my case was extensive enough that I was then referred on to the Chicago location where I would ultimately have surgery.They deemed me a candidate for an anterior and posterior spinal fusion. A metal rod (called a Harrington Rod) would also be implanted to keep my backbone sturdy. It’s a piece of hardware I will have with me forever.I’m not telling this story for sympathy. No, far from it.I wanted to tell my story so people understand the generosity and kindness that the Shriners and their facilities have for kids struggling with disabilities.First, my entire procedure was free of charge.What a perk for families. Many kids require multiple surgeries, and in a traditional hospital system thousands upon thousands of dollars can add up quickly. There really aren’t words to describe the amount of stress that is absent during health issues when money isn’t a concern.Second, transportation was free too.I’m not talking about free cab fare, or a rental vehicle. The Shriners paid for my flight to, and from Chicago. One family member (usually my mother) was also allowed to travel with me, also free of charge. The group also paid for flight tickets for my subsequent yearly check ups. I had surgery when I was seven and went back once a year until I was 21. That’s 14 flights for both me and a family member, all paid for by the Shriners.The experience during my hospital stay was incredible. I was unable to attend a bingo event for the patients once. Later I was brought a toy that I ‘would have won’ had I not been bedridden.Yes, you heard me correctly, I received a prize that I theoretically would have won…I wish all bingo events were like that.The atmosphere of the facility and the patients is a site to behold.One would think that in a building with so many kids suffering with such extensive disabilities, that the mood would be hard to swallow.But in fact it is the exact opposite.The facility has easy-to-use jungle gyms, video game consoles and televisions that can be wheeled from room to room. The hospital even provides a separate kids-only meal line outside of the cafeteria.All this because of the Shriners.What the Shriners do is incredible. It’s a Godsend for those that can’t afford medical treatment. Some of the procedures that kids have at the facilities may not be covered under standard health insurance.But the Shriners are there to make a kid’s life better.I don’t have enough time (or paper) to tell you how much me and my family have appreciated what this group has done for us. But if you get a chance to attend a circus, buy a raffle ticket or candy bar from a Shriner, know that the dollars go to help people like me go on to live better lives.So please, when you get a chance, thank a Shriner.

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