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August 21, 2014 - 

Rachel Koning was 12 years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She went through two years of treatment at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., including a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister, Hannah, which saved her life.

“Statistically, I should not be alive,” said Rachel, now 18 and a member of Alive Ministries, a Christian Reformed congregation in Jenison, Mich.

Now Rachel is making a difference in the lives of teens who are being treated at DeVos for life-threatening illnesses. She has organized a drive, now in its fourth year, to collect items specifically for teens—she calls them “poke prizes”—to pick from after they’ve been poked by a needle or had a medical procedure. The idea for Rachel’s Annual Teen Drive came out of her own experience in the hospital of finding lots of prizes for small children but very few for teens.

“When people think of a children’s hospital, they think of little kids,” she said. “They don’t always think of older children [or teens].”

Some of the items Rachel gets donated include journals, iPod holders, pajama pants, and bottles of nail polish. She has taken in donations of more than $3,000 over the first three years of the program.

“She’s made it her mission to connect with the community and raise awareness [of the needs of teens],” said Jennifer Wilson, a child life specialist at the hospital. “We rely heavily on donations. The fact that she does this annually is a huge help for us.”

Rachel graduated in May from Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, Mich. She plans to start college this fall, majoring in nursing. Her dream job is to return to DeVos as an oncology nurse.

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