November 29, 2022
Senior Camryn Saal has been manager of the girls’ varsity soccer team all four of her years at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. Although Camryn’s disabilities prevent her from playing, her enthusiasm on the sidelines motivates others. “I enjoy it a ton,” the 18-year-old says.
In January 2012, at age 7, Camryn was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the primary central nervous system. Physicians at Riley Children’s Health told Andrew and Maggie Saal that their elder daughter’s chance of survival was only 20 percent. “They didn’t sugarcoat it — but they gave us hope,” Maggie recalls.
While she beat the odds, the drugs and radiation that helped Camryn overcome cancer created other challenges, including impaired vision. In 2014 she fell from her school bus, which led to a traumatic brain injury.
Riley Pediatric Neurosurgeon Laurie Ackerman, M.D., believes her former patient’s experiences make her a strong ambassador for Riley. “Camryn has a unique position in having encountered multiple healthcare teams across the years, which is unfortunately asked of some of our patients.”
But Camryn “always had a good attitude, and she kept fighting,” Maggie says. “She missed out on a lot of things her friends could do, but that didn’t stop her from being a loving, caring person. It changed her forever but made her who she is today.”
After Camryn’s recovery, she and her family resolved to give back by starting Brains for Hope to raise money for pediatric cancer research. In three years their foundation raised close to $300,000. The Saals hope their efforts will contribute to discovering new oncology drugs with fewer side effects for children.
In addition to her soccer responsibilities, Camryn enjoys arts and crafts and is looking forward to speaking at her school’s Riley Dance Marathon. “It was a long journey for me,” she says. “I think if people are wanting to know about me, I should tell my story — that you can overcome many illnesses.”
“This is where she shines,” Dr. Ackerman says. “She has taken a situation where she has had limitations and challenges and smashed them. And here she is, advocating for other kids.”