On paper, Sarah Holloway appears to be an average recent college graduate: 23 years old, 3.8 GPA in microbiology, loves to read and tandem bike. She's beginning to learn how to rock climb at a local gym. Except that Sarah isn't average at all.
Born 14 weeks early, the Karns native was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity as a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at East Tennessee Children's Hospital and has been legally blind ever since. Her left leg below the knee was amputated at age 1. At 15, she had her right hip replaced. She has had three other surgeries at Children's Hospital, including a nissen fundoplication during which part of her stomach was wrapped around her esophagus to address gastrointestinal issues.
For Sarah, a long list of medical roadblocks has never been a reason to slow down. "I'm working on getting into med school now," she said. "I want to become an orthopedic surgeon." Until she becomes Dr. Holloway, Sarah is embracing her experience as a child at Children's Hospital as means to connect with current patients through volunteering. "I am able to relate to the patients and understand what they're going through, even if my situation was different in some ways. I know what it's like to constantly be in the medical atmosphere being poked and prodded all the time," Sarah said.
Her dedication to the hospital is clear: she has been volunteering on and off since 2004. "The doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital saved my life," she said. "I just want to give back to the hospital and show my appreciation for them." When Sarah was born and spent four months in the Children's Hospital NICU, her parents did not know anyone in town. They had only recently moved from Chattanooga for a new job. "The staff became our family and support system at that time. That's what it comes down to," Sarah said. In addition to volunteering, Sarah serves as an ambassador for Children's Hospital. She works with other patients and families to spread the word about their experience here and encourage others to become invested in the hospital's constant growth and improvement.
As she plans for her own future, Sarah cites her Children's Hospital orthopedic surgeon, Robert Madigan, M.D., as inspiration. "He was the one who made me an active participant in my own health care. When I was 4 years old, he showed me the instruments he was using and taught me what they were called and did. Each time I came back for another appointment, he would quiz me on them," Sarah said. "I grew up with him, and he made a huge difference in my life." When Sarah told Dr. Madigan about her dream to follow in his footsteps, he gave his full support. She explained, "He told me, 'You can do it. You will not only sympathize with the patients, you will empathize with them. You have been there.'"
Sarah Holloway's dedication to East Tennessee Children's Hospital has not gone unnoticed.
At the 2014 Volunteer Appreciation Brunch, Sarah and her volunteer partner, Michael Dayah, were awarded the coveted Buddy Award for being a volunteer team who "uplifts a patient's spirit, who listens without judging and who brings joy to all." The award was created to honor Buddy Williams, Children's Hospital Chief of Security, who died in 2011. His compassionate and selfless nature is honored and remembered each year through the award.
Cheryl Allmon, Director of Volunteer Services, said that although Michael and Sarah's talents are different, "they are an amazing team. They create an atmosphere of acceptance and dedication that spreads to everyone they work with."
The pair uses each of their individual strengths to train new volunteers and make a positive impact on patients, families and staff.
"She often has to keep him in line and he seems to constantly push her to take on even more roles," Allmon said. "They are an unlikely duo, but they are a dynamic duo."