When Connie Platten looks at the 2016 high school graduation photo of her daughter, Amber Haze Harper, she sees a girl who beat long odds to wear a cap and gown.
“Graduation was a milestone nobody expected,” Connie said. “She’s a miracle.”
In 2009, Amber was diagnosed with an aggressive type of leukemia at Akron Children’s Hospital. She and her family were from Arizona, but had moved that year to Minerva, located east of Canton, to help Connie’s sick mother.
During her months of treatment, Amber suffered a stroke and she developed a near-fatal fungal infection, called mucormycosis. A rare infection, mucormycosis mainly strikes people with weakened immune systems.
Amber spent 100 days in the hospital, including 8 weeks on life support.
“She was super sick. She went through a lot of surgeries,” said Connie. “They really didn’t think she was going to pull through.”
After one surgery to remove part of Amber’s lung because of the infection, “We said goodbye to her. Her siblings had to say goodbye.”
Amber pulled through, and the family in 2011 had to return to Arizona, where she finished her treatments, after her grandmother’s house in Minerva fell into foreclosure.
“When we came back to Arizona, Amber was still really fragile,” her mother said. “They were afraid she wouldn’t survive the move.”
Today, Amber is in remission. She’s 18 and looking forward to the entering the culinary program at the Art Institute of Phoenix this fall. She’s living for the time being with her father at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland.
On the phone, she sounded outgoing and upbeat. She talked about how close she came to death, how she was in an induced coma for weeks, and defied the odds after the fungal infection spread through her body.
“I wrote my own story,” she likes to say. “I did it my way.”
Some of her memories of Akron are fuzzy, but she said she remembers how much she liked the doctors and nurses. “And the snow.”
“For 6th grade, I was there for about 2 months and then I was out. I went back to school in 8th grade.”
She also remembers Sammy, a member of the hospital’s Doggie Brigade. She continues to stay in touch with Barbara McKelvey, Sammy’s owner.
“Sammy was protective of me. He would nap with me,” Amber said.
Barbara remembers one day when Amber was very sick, and she didn’t want to get out of bed. The nurses wanted her to get dressed and move around.
“I brought Sammy in and said to Amber, ‘If you get dressed, you can walk him down the hallway,’” she said. “She did it. She walked down that hallway, and we all broke into tears.”
Connie said Amber today reaches out to help other children battling cancer.
“Amber’s outlook is very positive. She’s happy,” said Connie. “She would do anything for anybody. She has such a big heart. She walks with others on their journey so they’re not alone.”