June 20, 2013 by

Friendly, caring, and determined Audrey Hansen, 18, recently graduated from Bennington Jr./Sr. High School where she played volleyball for four years. She loves to socialize with friends and meet new people.

Although she has faced plenty of challenges with her cerebral palsy, nothing has stopped Audrey from helping others.

For her senior project, she raised money to purchase a kangaroo chair for UNMC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “It all started when I heard on the radio about Children’s Hospital here in Omaha having a radio-thon for kangaroo chairs that are priced at $1,500.”

The kangaroo chair that Audrey’s project helped purchase allows a mother and her premature newborn to interact through close, comfortable, skin-to-skin contact when the newborn can’t leave the hospital.

Audrey says she chose to raise money to benefit premature infants and their mothers because she, herself, was born premature, weighing only 1lb. 7oz. “I was born at 24 weeks of gestation—or at six months of pregnancy…All my family could do at that time was touch me, but it was very limited touching because I burned a lot of calories necessary for growth and weight gain.”

“She has a soft spot for anybody else with a disability. She’s such a sweet girl.” – Denise Heppner, Audrey’s mom

When Audrey’s mom, Denise Heppner, was finally able to hold her, she was a little over a month old. “It was called a ‘kangaroo hold,’” Audrey explains. “This is a skin-to-skin contact next to the chest that provides warmth and a heartbeat connection. It has been proven that a more rapid weight gain is observed through kangaroo care.”

Heppner is not surprised at all that her daughter wants to help people. “She has a soft spot for anybody else with a disability,” she says. “She’s such a sweet girl.” She says that Audrey even comes to Pine Creek Elementary in Bennington—where Heppner is a secretary—to read to the children because she loves being around kids.

Audrey inspires her mom on a daily basis because “she doesn’t look for a way out, and she doesn’t use her disability as a crutch.” Above all, Audrey has taught Heppner to be a better listener for people who need to be heard. “Just giving five minutes of your time is enough. The time that you can share is valuable because it always means a lot to someone, and she’s shown me that.”

As for Audrey’s future, she plans to attend Metropolitan Community College in the fall. “I want to have a college degree and a well-paying job that I enjoy doing,” she says of her goals. “I always want to keep pace with others my age in spite of having cerebral palsy.”

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