The 68th annual KDKA UPMC Children's Hospital Free Care Fund Benefit Show is this Thursday, Dec. 16.

By: KDKA-TV News Staff

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The 68th annual KDKA UPMC Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund Benefit Show is this Thursday, Dec. 16, and this week we’re featuring patients who’ve benefitted from the care they received at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

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Last month at Thanksgiving, very few were as stuffed as 13-year-old Anna Markiewicz. Stuffed with thanks, that is.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

She recently became a cancer survivor and until this Thanksgiving had not been with her extended family since 2018.

“Her immune system was just wiped out. It was easy for her to get an infection from something that wouldn’t normally be an infection,” said Anna’s mom, Jennifer.

Anna’s journey began back in 2019 when she started suffering from extreme headaches.

Her dad, David, said they were manageable at first.

“You would not have known anything was going on. She had just played in a basketball tournament that week,” he said.

But the pain became unbearable over time, leading to one morning that would change her life forever.

“She woke up vomiting and was holding onto the walls because she felt like the room was spinning,” Jennifer said.

Anna was rushed to the emergency room near her home in Erie. An MRI showed a mass growing on her brain.

She was then immediately flown to UPMC Children’s where she was diagnosed with medulloblastoma. It’s an aggressive cancer, common among children, which starts in the brain or spinal cord and can then spread throughout the entire central nervous system.

Fortunately, Anna’s case was caught early.

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“We were so thankful that it was very much contained to one spot,” said Jennifer.

To treat Anna, doctors surgically removed the tumor from her brain, and then gave her several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. It was a rough road for the family of five.

“We traveled to Pittsburgh every day for six weeks, Monday through Friday, for radiation treatments,” Jennifer said.

“It was totally different from what I was normally like. I was exhausted. It was long, but eventually it got smoother and easier,” Anna said.

And she says that was all thanks to the caring team at UPMC Children’s.

She credits everyone from the child life specialists who helped her find light during her darkest days to the surgeon who made her feel at peace prior to the procedure to a cafeteria worker who saw the pain in her parents eyes one day and reached out to help.

“I’ll never forget, it was one of the chefs or one of the cooks who walked up to us and said, ‘Let me buy your coffee.’ He just knew. We had that look like there was a lot going on in our lives that day,” David said.

Today, Anna’s life has returned to normal. She finished her treatments in May of last year. She’s back to playing basketball, baking cakes and building LEGO sets.

She even designed her own line of headbands through Headbands of Hope, which promotes self-confidence in kids who are fighting cancer. Anna’s headbands are now sold out.

“It’s really cool because I never thought this would happen, and it’s awesome,” Anna said.

Anna says she feels so inspired by her bond with the UPMC staff that she, too, hopes to work with children one day. Proving that just a drop of compassion can cause a ripple and keep hope alive for generations to come.

Anna and countless others are alive today, because of the care they received at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. And the Free Care Fund at UPMC Children’s has helped so many families afford that medical care over the years.

Please help us keep that fund going! Click here to learn how to donate to the Free Care Fund.

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Join us this Thursday, Dec. 16, beginning at 4 p.m. for the 68th annual KDKA Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund Benefit Show.