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‘Big Kid’ Gives Back

Thetford Graduate Returns Favor to CHaD

Already 16 when she was diagnosed with a peripheral nervous system disorder, Joanna Grossman was a “big kid” when she was treated at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth in 1997. Since then, she’s been giving back in a big way.

Grossman (now Joanna Grossman Miller) will take part in the CHaD Hero running and walking event on Sunday in Hanover, making her a participant for all eight editions since its inception in 2006.

The CHaD Hero is an important initiative for Grossman, who spent five days at CHaD near the end of her sophomore year at Thetford Academy. After experiencing a gradual decline in muscle strength over the course of several months, her parents, Dana and Dan, found her sitting on the front steps of her Thetford Hill home, unable to turn the key in the lock to get inside.

On the way to a planned Memorial Day family weekend getaway, the family stopped for an appointment at CHaD — and their plans changed in a hurry.

“They said, ‘We’re admitting her,’ and gave me a lot of different tests,” Grossman recalled. “A family vacation was pretty much out of the question.”

Grossman was diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), a condition causing the immune system to attack the myelin sheath on the peripheral nerves so that they stop carrying impulses to the muscles.

She responded well to intravenous infusions of the immunoglobulin antibody, treatment Grossman, 33, continues to receive every five to six weeks.

Just being diagnosed was a relief for Grossman, a three-sport Thetford athlete who’d been befuddled about her declining strength.

“It started around the end of basketball season, in February (1997) and was a slow downhill trajectory,” Grossman recalled. “I remember getting ready for track season and just not being able to do things that I was supposed to be able to do. I said, ‘I’m 16, I’m healthy,’ and thought it might just be all in my head.

“Then eventually, it was like I fell off a cliff. I couldn’t do things like climb stairs. If I sat on the floor, it would be really hard to get up. When I couldn’t turn the key in the lock, that was kind of the last straw.”

Grossman has fond memories of her time at CHaD, where she spent five days under the care of neurologist Dick Nordgren. She’ll always be thankful for the way she was treated, both medically and personally.

“The nurses were wonderful. It was just a really comfortable place,” said Grossman, who today lives in Stow, Mass., and works as a house administrator at Harvard University. “I had a friend come visit and we goofed around, got in one of the little-kid cars and rode around the lobby. They had no problem letting us be teenagers. They just do a great job helping you feel like a person and not just a patient.”

Six weeks prior to the inaugural CHaD Half Marathon in 2006, Grossman received a call from her sister, Emily, urging her to participate.

“She was a varsity cross country runner at Brown (University) at the time and made up a training program for me,” Grossman recalled. “I’d never run anything longer than a 10K, but I said, ‘OK, let’s go for it.’ ”

Grossman went on to run the 13.1-mile race during each of the first five events, then switched to the 5K after giving birth to her daughter, Nora, less than two months before the 2011 run. She plans to push Nora along in a stroller for the third straight year during the 5K this Sunday.

CIDP is a non-genetic disease, Grossman noted, and Nora hasn’t shown signs of it or anything similar.

“Now having a daughter of my own, it gives me all the more reason to want to support and participate,” she said. “It’s important to me that she appreciates her health and understands that there are kids that go through difficult trials and challenges.”

Grossman has raised plenty of funding along the way for CHaD, a nonprofit pediatric facility that provides extensive care regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Having raised nearly $22,000 total, she was the event’s largest fundraiser in 2008 with a donation totaling $3,570.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, she had surpassed that figure with $3,605 raised so far this year, according to information available on www.chadhalf.org. That accounted for 80 percent of her goal of $4,500.

For the second straight year, Grossman will run as part of a team titled “In Honor of Connor,” a team organized to recognize former Thetford Academy student Connor Cook, who was struck by lightning in June 2012 and was treated at CHaD before passing away from the injuries. Cook had just completed his sophomore year at Thetford and was 16 when the incident occurred — the same age Grossman was when diagnosed with CIDP.

“It was important for me to show solidarity with Thetford,” Grossman said.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

CORRECTION

The eighth CHaD Hero running and walking event is scheduled for this Sunday. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect day.