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Woodside girl recognized as a hero after recovery

The plucky Woodside native could easily have sat out her final year at PS 12, receiving tutoring at home where she had been convalescing since getting out of Elmhurst Hospital Medical Center last summer. But despite lingering balance problems, a broad scar marking her head and a titanium plate that will remain in her skull for the rest of her life, Heather vowed to graduate with the friends who had surrounded her since kindergarten.Now Elmhurst Hospital officials and the Kids Wish Network are planning to honor Heather's grit with a "Hero of the Month Award" in April."The fact that she was so determined to go back to the very place where the most traumatic event in her life happened shows a lot of courage," said Meredith Farrell, Child Life program coordinator for Elmhurst. Farrell nominated Heather for the award, a new program sponsored by the Kids Wish Network in conjunction with Elmhurst.In addition to the recognition, Heather, the program's second honoree, will receive a $300 gift certificate to Target."It feels good. I'm happy," said Heather, who will accept the award and gift certificate during an April 5 ceremony at the hospital with friends and family. "I'm going to maybe buy CDs and tapes and clothes and stuff."Heather's mother, Lynn Hodge, said her daughter developed a taste for music during the long months she spent at home and in bed after the May 2004 incident in which a student who has since been transferred pushed her down a flight of stairs. "That's why she started doing these things because it was easier for her to do them," Hodge said of Heather, who plays flute and guitar and listens to all the most recent music. "She got into music a lot more because she couldn't do all her physical activities."Hodge said her daughter gets depressed from time to time. "Most adults couldn't have (gone) through what she did," Hodge said. Still, she said Heather has been buoyed by a tenacious spirit. Hodge said she has even had to rein in her daughter's enthusiasm for some of the gym class activities that could jeopardize her recovery. "It's hard to explain you have to be careful to a 10-year-old," Hodge said. "Your whole outlook changes."Heather will be the second child to receive the Kids Network Hero of the Month Award since Elmhurst launched the program in March. Nazish, an 8-year-old Woodsider who is a midget, received a $300 gift certificate to Toys "R" Us March 10."It was wonderful - the look of surprise on her face when we handed her this little Wonder Woman-looking card," Farrell said. "She just gasped and said 'Really?' It was one of the best days at work ever."Farrell said Elmhurst decided to partner with Kids Wish Network's Hero of the Month Program to tend to an unmet need for many of the exceptional children the hospital cares for. "They recognized that so often so many organizations - even their own - had been more geared toward terminally ill kids," Farrell said. "What about those kids that we come across that we just say 'wow'?" The program is now operating in 13 hospitals across the country. Children who win the award receive gift certificates to stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Circuit City, Best Buy and Toys "R" Us valued between $200 and $500, depending on their age. Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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