Teenager battles fight of her life 

Like many girls her age, Ashley Woltman, a 13-year-old from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, jumps at the chance to get dressed up. 

So when she was invited to participate in the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital Fashion Show last year as a model, she gladly accepted. 

“I loved walking down the runway and strutting my stuff,” said Ashley. “And I was happy to see so many people supporting Comer.”

Now in its sixth year, the Fashion Show provides an afternoon for girls and boys to model fashions from Chicago retailers while supporting life-saving care and advancing pediatric medicine at Comer Children’s. 

For Ashley, who enjoys cheerleading, baking, and photography, her journey to reach the runaway came with many hurdles.   

On New Year’s Day of 2014, the 7th grader was diagnosed with leukemia and would later spend more than 160 days at Comer Children’s—the hospital referred to her by her local doctor. After treatment failed the first month, her physicians discovered that she had a very rare mutation, one of only a handful in the world, that if not detected could have devastating consequences.   

 “Ashley had a lot of complications and side effects. We still laugh that she is not textbook and her cancer never followed what was expected with treatment,” said her mother Sandy. “She always had to be a little different and keep doctors on their toes.”

 And that she did. Because her cancer did not go into remission, Ashley faced a new battle; the need for a bone marrow transplant. Her doctors’ strategy was to wait until she reached remission before moving forward with the transplant. Finally four months later, and on Sandy’s birthday, she achieved remission.

“Those days waiting to see if the next treatment would work were very hard,” said Sandy. “We felt at a loss, out of control, and praying for doctors to keep researching to find out why her cancer was different and not responding to traditional treatment.”

As her condition improved, so also did her success with the bone marrow transplant, which she received from a donor miles away. Just recently, Ashley and her family got to meet that donor who traveled to Chicago for a visit.  

“Our family could not thank him enough,” said Sandy. “He is the most genuine man; so nice, funny, down-to-earth, and loving. We enjoyed spending the entire day with him.”

Because Ashley was in the hospital so much during her treatment, she got to know the nurses and all the doctors quite well. “They were all very kind and compassionate and took time to explain to Ashley what was going on and answered all of her questions,” said Sandy.

Ashley also benefited from Comer Children’s Child Life and Family Education program, which provides educational, developmental, and therapeutic services for children and families who are in the hospital for surgery, procedures, or critical care. 

 “Ashley could not have gotten through her treatment without Child Life,” said Sandy. “We loved having them along each step of treatment. From sedation and radiation, to chest tube removal and blood draws; they were there.”

 The Child Life team also visited her on a daily basis just to see how she was doing, added Sandy. “Child Life even brought the ingredients into Ashley's hospital room for her to make cupcakes when she was in isolation and unable to go to the playroom.”  

Due to her medical team, Ashley is now on the road to recovery and looking forward to modeling again in this year’s Comer Children’s Fashion Show.

“She knows there are more battles ahead of her with late effects of chemotherapy and radiation, but we just take things as they come,” said Sandy. “Each one is a battle, but it is part of the cancer journey. She is very determined and knows this is the fight of her life.”