For 10 years the Big Grape has been raising money to support the Avera Children's Hospital. Each year the foundation celebrates a few "Little Grapes" or child ambassadors for the pediatrics unit. One of those ambassadors for 2013 is Thane Hilmoe. Looking at the 11-year old, you'd never guess that just a few months ago he was in the fight of his life.
"We always knew he was brave and he can handle a lot but we had no idea that he could handle that much until he had to go through what he did." Said Karen Hilmoe, Thane's mother.
Thane was diagnosed with a rare disorder called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a severe reaction to certain medications. Basically the disease caused the skin around Thane's face to swell and blister.
"It was hard for me to go through all that and not being able to talk." Said Thane.
But Thane handled the pain like a champion.
"He was a trooper through it all. It can be very painful and we asked him to do a lot of things to get through the illness and he did them all and he did them very well." Said Courtney Ehlers, Avera Children's Nurse Manager.
While their son fought off the infection, parents Karen and Zach could only stand by and watch.
"When he couldn't talk to us it was hard so we gave him a board and he would write to us, so his big thing was the thumbs-up if he was good or bad he would give us the thumbs-up." Said Karen.
While Thane recovered, he spent several weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit, right in the middle of football season. Thane is one of the managers for the Dell Rapids Quarriers football team. His love of the game and watching both the Quarriers and Minnesota Vikings helped take his mind off the pain.
"It was easier, it was time-consuming so I went through it a lot quicker." Said Thane.
And with one of their own unable to make it to the football games, Thane's teammates made sure he wasn't alone in the hospital.
"I got it when I was sick, it's the whole football team they signed it for me. My Friends, they made me cards and they brought me all cards." Said Thane.
Being put into a situation like this was extremely scary, but Thane says his stay in the pediatrics wing would have been much harder to get through if not for the support from his parents and every single nurse who stood by his side.
"They were amazing they helped me out whenever I needed it and they were just awesome." Said Thane.
Thane is one incredible fighter. Even in the best situations, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome can take months to get over. Thane made a full recovery in just weeks.
"It just makes you smile, you share it with everybody and let everybody know what great support we had there at Avera and it's wonderful that his story turned out like it did and we can share it with others." Said Karen.
Thane's strength and positive attitude are the reason he's a "Little Grape" for 2013. Nurses say it's patients like Thane that remind them why they do the job.
"At an age of 11 there's so much impact that we get from our patients and we learn so much about the resilience and joy of life from our pediatric patients so he definitely left a lasting impression on us." Said Ehlers.
His experience at Avera Children's may have been difficult but for all the other children out there, this champion has a few words of encouragement.
"There's always a chance to get better!" Said Thane.
Last year the Big Grape raised over $110,000 for the Avera Children's Hospital. That money helps purchase new toys, iPads, and fund the Child Life Specialists. These workers do crafts and other activities with patients to help make the hospital stay as comfortable as possible.
This year's theme is called the Big Grape: Next Generation and will be held at the Prairie Center on the Avera Mckennan campus. The event showcases live music, fine wines and craft beer, gourmet food all while helping sick kids. There is also a silent auction featuring several items and packages from local businesses.
Tickets are still available and can be purchased at JJ's Wine, Spirits, & Cigars or by visiting www.TheBigGrape.org
All the proceeds of the event go to help kids like Thane have the best hospital experience possible. For more information just call 877-AT-AVERA.