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From Cedar Grove Farm to Fan Hall of Fame: Canaan Sandy’s Journey to Healing

With the advances in diagnostic technology, many families learn during pregnancy that their baby will be born with Down syndrome. That wasn't the case for Ginger Sandy, mother of Canaan. She explains, "Canaan's heart stopped beating during the birth process, and then he failed terribly on the APGAR scoring system." The next morning, a physician at White River Medical Center in Batesville, where Canaan was delivered, sat Ginger down and uttered life-altering words: "I think the baby has Down syndrome."

Canaan Sandy, age four, enjoying a beautiful Arkansas day.

A pediatrician in Batesville came to the hospital to assess Canaan, and while he did believe the diagnosis was accurate, it would be six months before Canaan was well enough to undergo a genetic workup to confirm that he did indeed have Down syndrome. Ginger says, "We didn't need the test to know that life had taken a different path for us than we'd planned."

She continues, "I always have to laugh thinking about how terrible I thought our life was going to become, and it actually was so enriched and blessed because Canaan was such a wonderful addition to our family." It takes only a few moments in Canaan's presence to understand just what a blessing he is not just to his own family, but to anyone he encounters. His smile and energy are contagious, and that has played a large role in his most recent accomplishment, being named to the ESPN Fan Hall of Fame.

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It's been a very long and medically complex road that has led Canaan to where he is today. At just 8 weeks old, Canaan was sent to Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) with heart issues. Ginger recalls, "This was just after the new cardiac unit (now known as the David M. Clark Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit) had opened, and one of the new specialists was actually standing outside of the hospital waiting on us. We were in awe at the care and dedication we saw before we ever even got inside the doors of ACH!"

At 3 months old, Canaan had open heart surgery to repair a heart defect named Ventricular Septal Defect, or VSD. "He was the fifth open heart surgery performed in the new cardiac department," Ginger recalls. Canaan has bravely undergone multiple surgeries since, including duodenum blockage surgery and tympanoplasty to repair his eardrum.

The Sandys are no strangers to the various clinics offered at ACH, as Canaan has been a patient of most of them, from ENT, Urology and Dental to Genetics and Dermatology. He currently visits the ACH Audiology and ENT Clinics regularly, and the Cardiology Clinic as needed.

Throughout Canaan's life, one thing has remained constant: his love of the Arkansas Razorbacks. "Our family had Razorback season tickets long before Canaan was born," says Ginger. "He was 2 months old during the first game of the year at Fayetteville. Rather than leave him with grandparents and worry about him the whole time, we took him with us. He did awesome and, who knows, that may have been the start to his dedication! We can't remember him not cheering for the Hogs. He's been talking since he was three and "Woooo Pigs!" came soon after."

Canaan's love of all things Razorback got the attention of ESPN last year when he was nominated as a finalist to be named to the ESPN Fan Hall of Fame. Arkansas rallied behind him and voted him into the 2013 Fan Hall of Fame class.

Canaan is so excited to tour New York City, sporting a Razorback shirt, of course.

In May, Canaan and Ginger travelled with University of Arkansas representatives to New York for the induction ceremony. It was truly a trip of a lifetime for the Sandys. "The trip was so much more than we could have imagined, ever," Ginger says of the experience. "We stayed at a hotel IN Times Square; really, IN TIMES SQUARE! The first elevator ride in the hotel we got on was with a family who began to call the Hogs!"

From there it was a whirlwind of Broadway shows, amazing food and seeing the sights of New York City. "Being at the foot of Miss Liberty was a lifelong dream for us." They also ran into countless Canaan fans during their time in New York, some from Arkansas and some from other areas.

"Canaan got several surprises, but one of the best came when the photographers and video teams were following him around in the huge green room and BIG RED, the Razorback mascot, snuck up behind him. Canaan freaked! The next big surprise was when Hannah Storm, Canaan's favorite ESPN sportscaster, was the emcee of the induction ceremony. Ms. Storm is as gracious and as loving as she is beautiful and Canaan was so happy to get to meet and spend time visiting with her."

While Canaan is a true fan of the Razorbacks, he and his family also count themselves as fans of Arkansas Children's Hospital. "You can't get any more special as a hospital than when you can offer the very best medical care in the most fun and loving environment," Ginger says. "ACH makes sure everyone feels loved and special and that's even for the families. Canaan still loves going to Children's and always will. ACH is one of his favorite places and he considers everyone at ACH family!"

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Ginger has said that life didn't turn out the way she and her family had planned, but it has been even better than imagined, and this special recognition is just the latest for Canaan. He recently attended a 4-H district conference where he called the Hogs with hundreds of 4-H members. He's set to be the grand marshal at the famous Cave City Watermelon Festival and will perform a dance for festival-goers also. As if that's not enough, he will play a monk in the Batesville Community Theatre's production of "Nunsense, the Mega Musical" this summer. Of course, "he can't wait until football season," Ginger says.

Arkansas Children's Hospital and the state of Arkansas is so proud of our no. 1 fan, Canaan Sandy!

Canaan strikes a pose in NYC!

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