Sammie Hasen, a biomedical engineering student at Georgia Institute of Technology, has just published her first book, “Long Live the Little Ones.” Hasen and her co-producer and mentor Ella Koscik seek to spread awareness about children facing critical illnesses, such as autoimmune diseases, heart transplants, and pediatric cancer by highlighting their dreams. All profits are donated to foundations that advocate for these children.
“Kids going through illnesses are just normal kids and they just want to be treated like normal kids,” Hasen said. She hopes her book will show that all children regardless of health challenges are interested in the same things like sports, toys, music, and movies.
Hasen was inspired to write the book following a conversation she had with a 9-year-old boy with cancer five years ago. While at dinner with her family, the boy seated at the next table began to ask her questions.
“He casually asked me if I ever had surgeries. That’s when he mentioned that he had stage 3 brain cancer and how they were able to remove all of the tumors and were about to remove his ports. I was shocked because I didn’t think he was sick at all. It didn’t really phase him in any way. He wanted to be a baseball player when he grew up,” Hasen recalled.
Even though she didn’t catch his name or contact information, this child survivor became her hero. Six months later she came up with the name “Long Live the Little Ones.”
“I wanted to do something along the lines of these kids have goals that they think they can accomplish,” Hasen said. Her first idea was to bring career themed costumes to children’s hospitals, but realized she wanted something “more tangible that a bunch of people could see. I wanted to raise money for the foundations that were helping the kids.”
“I wanted a way to compile their stories and envisioned a coffee table book that would make everyone feel hopeful. I would have the kids draw what they want to be when they grow up,” Hasen shared.
But for next two years, Hasen faced roadblocks connecting to children to include in her book. Luckily, the founder of the Ella Marie Foundation – dedicated to empowering women and children to reach their full potential with a focus on hunger prevention, healthcare and education – was the mom of Hasen’s good friend.
“Sammie struggled to get through HIPPAA [medical privacy protections] to meet with kids. That’s how it started,” Koscik said. She facilitated Sammie’s meeting with families affected by childhood cancer at the 2016 Lighthouse Family Retreat.
“I went down to the retreat in Miramar Beach, Florida where I got to speak with 10 children in person, interview them, and watch them do all of their drawings,” Hasen said. She would later collect more stories and drawings from across the country through social media.
The Ella Marie Foundation agreed to financially sponsor the book and helped identify the beneficiary nonprofits, including Juvenile Arthritis Foundation, Lighthouse Family Retreat and Enduring Hearts, which funds research projects that contribute to the clinical and scientific knowledge of organ transplantation.
“Her tenacity to get this accomplished was amazing. She started this when she was 15. I am so proud of her,” Koscik said. “Kids with illnesses or other issues need a voice. This book gives them a voice. Sammie found that for them.”
This summer Hasen shared a book with each participant.
“They love it – it’s a really cool way to share their story,” Hasen said. She hopes that one day the boy she met will read it too and see how he changed her life.
Books are $20 and available for purchase at longlivethelittleones.org.