GCU alum helps young fan meet Lauren Daigle
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Shiann Sloan always has been the light breaking through the clouds, despite the storm that has swirled around her.
Shiann, 8, was born with a birth defect called an omphalocele, in which some of the organs from her abdomen were formed outside of her body because of a hole in the navel area.
“Typically it’s repaired at birth and children go on to live normal lives,” said Shiann’s mom, Stephanie. “But we tell people Shiann took the scenic route.”
Born premature, Shiann also struggles with chronic lung disease, an atrial septal defect (a hole in her heart) and, at 3 years old, had a tracheotomy and is ventilator dependent.
She also is partially deaf, so music therapy has helped her with her speech.
“If she could, her life probably would be a musical,” Stephanie said with a laugh.
Then there were the 12 surgeries.
It was after that 12th surgery in June that Grand Canyon University business management and marketing alumna Kelly Schindler added a little shimmer to that light.
Schindler, now the program manager for HopeKids Arizona, dropped in for a post-surgery visit, bringing along Play-Doh, headphones and other gifts to help bring a smile to Shiann’s face.
“Oh my goodness, this girl is so cool and so much fun to be around,” said Schindler. “… This day in June, I absolutely fell in love with her and her family.”
During that visit, Shiann was blasting some Lauren Daigle tunes on her iPad, and Schindler noticed.
“She goes, ‘Do you listen to Lauren Daigle?’” Schindler said. “Before I knew it, she was looking videos up on YouTube with my phone. She told me, ‘I know every word – every song. I’m the biggest Lauren Daigle fan you can find.’”
As it turns out, Shiann celebrated her eighth birthday just three days before the surgery and her parents, knowing their daughter’s love of all things Lauren Daigle, had purchased tickets to the Grammy Award-winning singer’s Sept. 27th concert at Grand Canyon University Arena as her birthday present.
Stephanie said, “I guess it (Shiann’s love of Lauren Daigle) just stuck with Kelly,” because a couple of weeks later, the family unexpectedly heard back from her.
While Shiann was recovering from her latest surgery, Schindler was busy working some magic with the help of GCU University Relations Manager Debbie Accomazzo and Daigle’s team to see if there was anything they could do for Shiann, and there was.
The team gave the Sloan family a Lauren Daigle upgrade – VIP tickets so they could go to the sound check before the concert and attend a question-and-answer session.
“I called her mom and she just started crying,” Schindler said. “She was so excited.”
But when the family arrived at the Arena, they had an even bigger surprise in store for them.
“We found out she was going to meet her,” Stephanie said. “… She just couldn’t believe it. … It was just the best thing. Lauren was as sweet as sweet could be.
“Shiann told me this morning, ‘I can’t believe she knew my name. Mom, how did she know my name?’ But Lauren just engaged with her and made her feel special.”
Daigle also told Shiann that when she was on stage, “I’m going to look for you.”
When people stood up at the concert once Daigle took the stage, Shiann started crying, telling her parents, “She’s not going to see me.”
But, of course, Daigle did see Shiann.
“Lauren acknowledged her and waved at her,” Stephanie said. “ … I think this far surpassed anything she has ever gotten to do.”
Schindler might say the same.
The GCU alum worked as a seasonal intern for college football’s Fiesta Bowl – an intense job, she said, that not only involved scheduling appearances by Fiesta Bowl mascot Spirit and arranging for players to participate in charitable events but also involved working a lot of holidays.
So she transitioned to the nonprofit world, taking a job after she graduated from GCU in 2015 as the community marketing manager for the Be Kind People Project before moving on to HopeKids Arizona, an organization whose focus is on giving hope to children who have terminal illnesses or some other life-threatening medical condition. The nonprofit plans events – it could be a sporting event or museum visit or VIP tickets to a Lauren Daigle concert – with the message that hope can be powerful medicine.
Schindler connects to families like Shiann’s, she said, because, “When I was younger, I actually had a sibling who was sick.”
“More than 40 percent of the children HopeKids serves are battling cancer and about 60 percent have other life-threatening medical conditions,” she added.
Stephanie said HopeKids has been wonderful to Shiann and her family, not only for arranging for Shiann to meet Daigle, but for allowing her to be at events where she’s among a community that doesn’t see her as any different from them.
“When she was younger, she didn’t know she was different, but as she’s gotten older, people stare. She’ll say, ‘Mom, you answer the questions.’ HopeKids has been amazing. It gives her the opportunity to see kids like her,” Stephanie said.
The family looks back over the weekend, still is in awe of everything that happened.
“You’re happy she gets them (opportunities like meeting Daigle), but then you realize she’s getting them because of what she’s been through. But she is just the most loving little kid,” Stephanie said.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-7901.
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