Video: Terminally ill teenager given a princess’ welcome
Madeleine Hordinski, Cincinnati Enquirer
Seventeen-year-old Shantell “Shannie” Pooser has been infatuated with flight attendants for years. She has multiple medical disorders and constantly flies from her home near Columbia, South Carolina, to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for treatment.
Last October, American Airlines and PSA Airlines named her as an honorary flight attendant, letting her give safety demonstrations and hand out snacks. Through her numerous flights and time working on-board, Shannie has befriended many of the flight attendants.
When those flight attendants heard Shannie was going to Cincinnati for one of her most vital surgeries yet, they wanted to do something special for their “princess.”
Getting off the plane at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Monday, her jaw dropped as she saw a wheelchair decorated with balloons. Flight attendants rolled her out to her princess castle, where a section of the seating area had been decorated with cardboard castle walls centering around a carriage backdrop.
Cinderella came out to meet Shannie, and as soon as they heard the Disney music playing, both began dancing.
Shannie reveled in the attention of the large crowd that had gathered as she showed off her moves to the applause of the audience.
Shannie’s energy and attitude was evident as she moved across the floor, full of life despite her illness.
Shannie has Down syndrome and various airway diseases, which went undiagnosed until she was 12.
Doctors told her mom, Deanna Miller-Berry, they couldn’t do anything to cure her, but Miller-Berry didn’t give up hope.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was the only one out of 20 hospitals that offered to help Shannie. She’s flown to the hospital for multiple surgeries since 2016.
Shannie’s doctors told Miller-Berry that Shannie is one of the oldest patients they’ve seen with her condition.
Last year, Shannie’s health worsened. Her airways are 87 percent obstructed, and she has trouble breathing, especially when she sleeps.
Shannie came to Cincinnati on Monday for a prosthetic tracheotomy, which, if successful, will help her breathe. With Shannie’s other diagnoses, the surgery only has a 10% chance of success.
Doctors said this surgery was her last chance. Without the surgery, she was given six-to-nine months to live.
Miller-Berry reported in a Wednesday Facebook post that the operation was a success.
“Her royal highness says Good morning! She made it through surgery and SHES BREATHING without obstruction! Prince will not leave her side!!!”
In a subsequent post, she noted that Shannie’s doctors say her recovery is already ahead of schedule.
“Drs are saying Princess is advancing so fast with recovery its baffling them,” she reported. “Shes ONE DAY Post OP and recovering like shes over a week post op!”
Miller Berry also said there had been a parade of visitors to Shannie’s hospital room, including one of the American flight attendants.
“What makes this trip more special than all the rest? Princess has VISITORS for the first time at Cincinnati Childrens,” she wrote. “Her step dad @pjnvekdad, brother KJ (Kenyatta), and her best friend Valarie (flight attendant that inspired Princess to be a flight attendant).”
Shannie will remain in Cincinnati with her mom for two to three months as she recovers.
As a result of the surgery, Shannie will have an apparatus coming from her neck. Her mom said she’s going to wear scarves to cover it, causing Miller-Berry to start a campaign “Scarves for Shannie.”
Through it all, Miller-Berry has faith.
“I believe we’re gonna get through this. I know without a doubt,” Miller-Berry said. “She’s not even supposed to be here, but Cincinnati Children’s Hospital gave me my baby back.”
Her dream job
Shannie has dreamed of being a flight attendant since she began making the trek to Cincinnati for her many surgeries.
After she and her mom befriended the flight attendants on one trip, they took her to the cockpit to meet the pilot, and that desire grew even more.
For her birthday last October, American Airlines helped organize a plane-themed party. they took Shannie and her friends on a plane and let Shannie give safety demonstrations for her guests.
At that time, she was given a pin and named an honorary flight attendant. On the few flights she’s been on since, she’s worn the uniform and performed her flight attendant duties.
Once the plane reaches a safe altitude, Shannie hands out snacks. She chooses what to give the guests, but they don’t seem to mind and eat whatever they’re given.
Shannie loves giving the safety demonstrations. Her mom said her face lights up as she buckles the seat belt or motions toward the oxygen mask.
Being a flight attendant is only one of many items on Shannie’s bucket list that her mom is determined to help her accomplish.
Shannie hopes to meet Barack Obama, Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus. She wants to challenge Ellen DeGeneres to a dance battle, which she is convinced she would win.
She also hopes to own her own tiny house.
A welcome fit for a princess
On Monday, as Shannie made her way to Cincinnati, each stop got bigger and better. Her home airport in Columbia, South Carolina, was decorated with blue streamers, her favorite color.
Miller-Berry thought that was amazing in itself but was surprised when at their layover in Charlotte, North Carolina, airline employees greeted Shannie as soon as she got off the jet bridge, showering her with attention. The airport was decorated with a princess theme similar to Cincinnati but not as grand, Miller-Berry said.
She said she thought for sure that was the end of it but was surprised once again at the welcoming party in Cincinnati.
The plane drove into the gate between two firetrucks, spraying water in a salute. Shannie was met with the decorated wheelchair and brought over the see the rest of her surprises.
She began dancing as soon as she heard the music. Her mom said that’s just her personality.
“That’s her every day,” Miller-Berry said. “She’s a dancer. She’s an entertainer. She loves to sing, and for an audience like this, oh yeah, she was bound to perform.”
The surprise took a lot of coordination between the airport staff, including American Airlines, PSA airlines and all of the people working on decorations. All of the decorations and food were donated, as were Shannie’s flights.
Those staff members organized this because of the bond they’ve formed with Shannie. They often work the same flights and have spent a lot of time with Shannie on her many trips to and from Cincinnati.
“My life is so enriched because of knowing her,” said Valarie Butler, a flight attendant with PSA Airlines.
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