BANGOR, Maine — About a dozen little girls in leotards and dance shoes watched raptly Saturday afternoon as Holly Legere, 17, demonstrated some of the dance moves they’ll be performing during a Thomas School of Dance recital this spring.
As a demonstrator at the downtown dance school for the last two years, Holly helps teach fledgling dancers some of the ballet and tap steps she’s mastered since enrolling at the age of 4, following in the footsteps of her mom, Pam Legere, who also took lessons there.
To anyone watching the dance class, it’s obvious that Holly has a knack for working with kids, who seem to gravitate to her.
“She’s so kind. She has so much patience,” said Anne Foster, whose daughter, Sophie, was among the pupils in one of the classes Holly was helping to teach Saturday. Foster watched through a window in the classroom door as the Bangor High School senior helped Sophie, who has autism, change from tap to ballet shoes about halfway through the hourlong dance class. For most of the class, Sophie kept her eyes glued on Holly, who is about as animated as teenagers get.
What’s not so obvious is that Holly has been living with Crohn’s disease for most of her young life. The disease led to the removal of part of her intestines and ostomy surgery when she was 15.
Holly’s optimistic outlook and interest in working with children dealing with illnesses are just some of the reasons she was named a 2010 “Comeback Kid,” one of only four in the nation. She entered by writing an essay about her life with the disease and her hopes for the future.
The awards are granted annually by the Great Comebacks Program, which aims to raise awareness of quality of life issues faced by the estimated 1.4 million Americans with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer and other diseases that can lead to stoma surgery, which involves making an opening through which body waste is eliminated.
Through the website, www.greatcomebacks.com, the program provides educational materials and support for patients facing the physical and emotional challenges of these debilitating diseases and transitioning to life after surgery.
A joint effort of ConvaTec, a company that provides products and services for ostomy patients, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the United Ostomy Associations of America Inc. and the Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society, Great Comebacks was founded by former pro football player Rolf Benirschke.
Benirschke, who has had a stoma since 1979, has been an inspiration to other people living with the same type of surgery, according to the website.
Most people diagnosed are young, between the ages of 15 and 35. Holly began exhibiting symptoms when she was just 4 years old and then was officially diagnosed in the fifth grade.
Though she has the occasional bad spell, the longest of which lasted about half a year, neither Crohn’s nor the ostomy have prevented Holly from doing what she loves, whether it be dance, rock climbing, being a big sister to her 14-year-old brother, Jacob, swimming, skiing or volunteering as a math tutor at Fairmount School. She also belongs to the National Honor Society, Key Club and the Bangor Y’s Interact Leaders Club.
Holly has also been to summer camps through the Y and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, where she’s made lots of friends she keeps in touch with through Facebook and Skype.
Last May, she formed a 20-member team that raised $4,000 for research that supporters hope will lead to a cure during the annual Crohn’s and colitis walk in Portland. Members of Team Holly wore purple shirts and wristbands, she said. Their motto was “‘Team Holly’s Got Guts,’ which is ironic because I have less guts than most people,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
Holly said Saturday that she intends to take part in the walk again this year.
“Because of the award, the pressure’s really going to be on” to top last year’s $4,000. Stay tuned for the details, she said.
According to her profile on the Great Comebacks website, Holly was inspired to stay positive by a friend she made at her first hospital visit who was living with other health conditions including cystic fibrosis and neurofibromatosis. Even at her sickest, her friend’s spirit never dimmed — she played games, helped other kids in the hospital and remained positive.
When her friend died, Holly vowed to pay tribute by making a difference in the lives of others.
“My friend gave me the strength to stay positive and go on,” she said. “Now that I am healthy, I want to do that for other children.”
The daughter of two Bangor educators, kindergarten teacher Pam Legere and fourth-grade teacher Tim Legere, Holly’s dream is to pursue a career in the medical field as a child life specialist so she can continue to help others feel good and stay healthy. She’s been accepted to three colleges that offer that program — and that happen to be in areas that offer good skiing.
For now, though, like most other college-bound teens, Holly is just looking for a summer job.