Avera Medical Minute: Helping patients at the Avera Children's Hospital through The Big Grape event

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Avera's event called The Big Grape is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. All of the proceeds raised will go to support the child life program at the Avera Children's Hospital.

Catherine Schonhardt is 10 years old but has already gone through a lot with her health.

"It's been a tough journey," Catherine's mom, Alicia Schonhardt, said.

Alicia said her daughter woke up when she was 4 years old with some pain. It got so bad, she couldn't walk any more. Catherine went through many tests until she was diagnosed with systemic onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

"That name is almost as tall as you are," Alicia said. "We've gone through lots of different doctor appointments, lots of treatment, different medications, trying to figure out the best fit."

Now, Catherine goes to Avera for an infusion every four weeks.

"That specifically isn't fun, but the crafts and TV are fun," Catherine said.

She actually looks forward to her trips to the hospital.

"The nurses are really friendly and really nice," she said.

She's specifically talking about Twila and Leah, who are child life specialists.

"Catherine is a special girl to us because we get to see her monthly after helping her through her hospitalization when she was here for a solid week, week and a half," Leah Schroeder said, who is a certified child life specialist with Avera.

Child life specialists help kids understand and get through their procedures. And The Big Grape event helps pay for things to supplement those visits at the hospital.

"I get really excited when I do see Catherine. She comes in with a big smile. She loves doing crafts. She's big into playing puzzles with the iPads, so it's a good technique that we have. She's very connected and we have a good bond together," Schroeder said.

Every year, a patient from the Avera Children's Hospital is honored at The Big Grape event. They're called "little grapes." Catherine was the "little grape" when she was 4.

"It was really fun to be part of such an upbeat event and then to know that everything that was raised there goes to helping families just like us have such a good experience," Alicia said.

This year, organizers are bringing all the previous little grapes back.

"It brings a lot of joy. You really connect with those kids and you appreciate those kids, what they have to go through. You really connect with those families and make a relationship with them," Schroeder said.

And the specialists see them grow and hopefully get stronger. Catherine does aquatic therapy and gets a shot every week at home, but she really enjoys the treatment she gets at Avera.

The Big Grape is Friday, April 5th at the Avera Prairie Center in Sioux Falls. The address is 1000 East 23rd Street. Tickets cost $125 and can be purchased online here. The event features live music, a silent auction, and food, wine and craft beer tastings.