The Morton High School boys’ basketball team and Coach Matt Franks are hosting the 6th annual Gameball Run event to raise money and awareness for Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Each school in District 709 has selected a Miracle Family to represent the services provided by Children’s Hospital and the impact it has on Morton families. To financially support Gameball Run, donate online at www.MortonGameballRun.org. Each school is hosting events, with all proceeds going to Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

The Miracle Family representing Morton High School is Elly Crider and her family — Joe Van Valey, Jen Crider-Van Valey, Elly Crider, Isabella Crider, Jarrett Crider, and Greg Crider. This is their story. 

“When we were asked to be Morton’s Gameball Run Miracle Family for the Morton High School, we wondered if our story could live up to the standard of Miracle Family,” said Elly Crider’s mom,  Jen Crider.  “While our story may be very different than others, we are incredibly grateful that the Children’s Hospital is right here in central Illinois, not only taking care of the 'big' miracles, but taking care of the 'tiny' ones as well.”

In August of 2003, Elyse (Elly) Crider dramatically entered the world. Labor started naturally, but then stopped, as she was “stuck” in a position that would have pushed her head backwards.  While the doctor was hoping she would turn, complications began that warranted an emergency C-section delivery.  Baby Elly looked like she had been through a boxing match with her face all swollen and bruised, but otherwise, she was a healthy baby. However, Jen had complications from the C-section, resulting in another surgery and several extra days in the hospital.  

When Elly was born, the Children’s Hospital was a wing of the old hospital near the cafeteria. “As a recovering patient trying to gain the strength to be able to go home, I was out for a walk in the hospital hallways with my mom (Elly’s 'Grammy'),” said Jen Crider. “As we passed by the colorful doors of the Children’s Hospital, I remember saying to Grammy, 'I hope we never have to go there.'”  

Two days later, Elly and mom were able to go home.  The family unpacked. Mom and baby were able to spend time with big brother Jarrett. Jen was happy to be home and to have everyone in their own beds.  That night, Elly woke up once and then slept until morning on day seven of her young life. 

“I went in to check on her and wake her to eat, and she was on fire,” said Jen. “Her temperature was 104 degrees. She was breathing, but she did not have any reflexes — no rooting reflex, no reactions when I touched the bottom of her feet, and she rarely blinked.”

Alarmed, the family rushed Elly to the OSF Emergency room. “My dad (Elly’s “Pa”) was a physician in the ER; he called ahead, and the hospital staff was waiting for us,” said Jen Crider. They rushed Elly back to the room and immediately began examining her. The nurses had difficulty starting an IV. They tried in her arms and even in her scalp.  Elly did not cry, she just laid on the table slowly breathing.  Once an IV was started, the doctor performed a spinal tap. Again, Elly just laid there without crying.  

“The doctors and nurses had Elly stable enough to transfer her over to the Children’s Hospital,” said Jen. “To follow protocol, they wanted to transport her in a crib on wheels; when I refused to let her go, they put me in a wheelchair and transported us both, pushing the IV poles behind us.” 

Elly’s tiny arms each had an IV and were wrapped in splints to keep the IV in place.  She also had other monitors placed all over her body, but the Crider family felt lucky because she was able to stay with the family in a room instead of being in the NIC-U. 

“Because we could not get her temperature to stay down, we couldn’t hold her against our bodies or even swaddle her in a blanket,” said Jen. “The nurses told me several times I could lay her in the crib in the room. Honestly, all I could think was, if I laid her down for two minutes and she died in those two minutes, I would always regret not having her in my arms. I regret now that I do not have pictures of this time. We were living moment to moment so completely that we never considered stopping to take a picture to help us remember.”

“The staff at the Children’s Hospital not only cared for Elly, they cared for our family,” said Jen. “Because I was unwilling to leave the hospital day or night, and had two major surgeries recently, the staff found a bed for me so I could lay down for short times during Elly’s stay.  My doctors teamed up with the Children’s Hospital staff and came to check on me during their rounds, while the other specialists checked on Elly.  When, on day two, of our Children’s Hospital stay, Grammy was diagnosed with shingles, the nurses helped me through the overwhelming emotions and fears for both my daughter and my mother. Dr. Gray, an infectious disease specialist, joined our team.  I do not remember anything he specifically said during the times he checked in on Elly, but I do remember the gentleness with which he spoke to her and held her.  I could say that about all of the other doctors and nurses as well. I felt like they loved Elly and treated her as if she belonged to them.” 

“While the nurses cared for Elly and I physically, they also cared for our family emotionally, said Jen Crider. “Elly was born right at the beginning of the school year. Which meant, Greg (dad) had to go back to work.  Jarrett (Elly’s brother) who was not quite three-years old, had been staying with his grandparents since Elly had been born.  When Jarrett and Greg (daddy) visited the hospital for a short time each evening, the nurses found toys for Jarrett to play with and movies for him to watch.  On the third night at CHOI, I was out in the hall giving Jarrett a hug and kiss goodnight. He asked me with tears in eyes, “Are you and the baby always going to live here and I am always going to live at Grandma and Papa’s? Can I come live with you again?”  After he left, the nurses comforted me as I cried and assured me it was all going to be OK.”   

While the doctors treated Elly’s fever, they sent away samples from her spinal tap and her bloodwork in an attempt to find what was causing her illness.  The doctors tested her first for everything that would have been fatal and then for everything that would have caused a lifelong complication.  The family celebrated when each test result came back negative.  

After five days, Elly’s fever had been down for 24 hours. The doctors diagnosed it as a “virus” and let Elly go home. “At first I was upset that they couldn’t tell me what it was,” said Jen Crider. “My dad, who was an Emergency room doctor for more than 30 years, explained that there are thousands of viruses and other diseases out there. They test for the ones we know will change the course of her life and then, when we can’t identify it, we rejoice because that means it wasn’t any of those “really bad things.””   

“Looking back now, the only picture I have from those five days at the Children’s Hospital was taken on our last day,” said Jen. “At that time, Elly was down to one IV and doing so well that her Aunt Heidi was able to cuddle her and cover her with a blanket.  You know you are appreciating the miracles when you are celebrating being able to hold your baby and cover her with a blanket.”  

On Elly’s first birthday, the Crider family held an open house celebration. They invited everyone who had prayed for Elly and the family during those rough two weeks of August 2013.  Instead of presents, we asked people to make a donation to the Children’s hospital, and we raised over $1000.  

Over the past 14 years, Elly has consistently shown the strength and ability to fight through pain and sickness.  

Unrelated to her early stay in the Children’s Hospital, she has twice broken her arm, once needing a complicated surgery and extended hospital stay.  When the pins in her arms were removed in the office, there were difficulties, but she amazed the doctor with her ability to stay calm and endure the pain.  She also had two minor surgeries on her wrists, and most recently, had spinal surgery in November of 2017, six days before the Miracle family dinner that kicks off the Gameball Run season.  Because of all of this, she is considering a career in the medical field, possibly as an OBGYN or a pediatric specialist. 

While Elly obviously does not remember those first few weeks, she has had heard the stories a million times.  “To this day, when she gets a fever, I choke up and can feel all of those fears and emotions I felt as she laid there as a one week old baby in the emergency room not crying or moving during a spinal tap,” said Jen. “As I watch her play sports and enjoy life, I am reminded daily how lucky I am to have this strong beautiful girl with an attitude that kept her fighting to get better.”

“And that is the story of Elly Crider and the Children’s Hospital,” said Jen Crider. “The Children’s Hospital of Illinois is here for all of our children. Whether we need them for a day, a week, or even for months or years. No matter what you need them for, or how long you stay, I can attest that when you are the Mommy, and they put that baby back in your arms and say you can go home, you truly feel like a Miracle Family.”