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May 25, 2020

One Tough Cookie

We could all use some good news these days.

After nine months at the Alberta Children’s Hospital receiving treatment for a brain injury, six-year-old Stamps fan Jenna Smith is making great strides in her recovery following her release.

Her journey, while incredibly difficult, was made easier because of her dedicated support workers, the incredible doctors and nurses at the hospital, and some welcome encouragement from the Stampeders organization.

As part of the Red & White’s 23-year partnership with the ACH, Jenna had the opportunity to make unforgettable memories during multiple visits with Stamps and cheerleaders during her stay.

“Jenna, because of her brain injury, has limited mobility on the left side of her body,” explained her caregiver, Charlene Defoe-Hall. “When they would come in, Alex Singleton would give her a football and throw it around with her. She enjoyed the interaction – when the cheerleaders were there, the pompoms, she really loved all of that. It got her excited and pumped up.

“They made her feel like a regular kid again.”

And those experiences continue to have an impact on her.

“At the time (when she was in hospital), she was completely wheelchair bound,” Defoe-Hall said. “She wasn’t able to stand on her own, she couldn’t do anything but sit in her wheelchair. She was tube fed at the time as well.

“But now, we throw the ball that the Stampeders gave us around outside all the time, and we play catch. It’s definitely something that has carried over; the activities she was doing with them has carried over to her home life now, and that has been a big part of her recovery.

“The kid’s got an arm on her now.”

Throughout her visits with the organization, Jenna also garnered a lifelong bond with Singleton.

“Alex was amazing with her,” Defoe-Hall said. “Alex would come play with her, he’d be playing with other kids but always ask about her. He’d always make sure he made an effort to see her, play and interact with her. Even now that he doesn’t play for the Stamps or live in Calgary we still keep in contact through Instagram and Facebook. He’s still seeing her successes.

“She still has that connection with him, because she remembers him. Any chance we get to see Alex on social media, or on the field watching NFL, I always point him out to her, and she always remembers her friend Alex.”

The feeling is mutual.

“I remember every visit to the hospital,” Singleton said. “Every time meant a lot to me and my teammates to go give back to amazing kids fighting really tough battles. Seeing Jenna continue to succeed while staying in contact with her makes me so happy.

“You never hope to see a kid when you go back because it means they have been there for some time. To see her and get to hear how far she has come makes me so happy and proud of her. I’m thankful for being able to follow and be a part of such an amazing little girl’s story.

While the boost from the Stamps was a welcome addition to her healing process, there were some real life superheroes that made the biggest difference in Jenna’s progress.

“Jenna had a number of different teams working with her,” said Defoe-Hall. “She had a neurologist, a physiotherapist, teachers and therapists helping her to recover. It was a daily network of people coming through that were working with her.

“Her injuries were pretty intense and to see where she was then to where she is now is a complete miracle. It’s been a huge transformation and it’s definitely because the work they did with her.

“And her support workers, they were with her 24 hours a day throughout the duration of the whole nine months, they played a massive part in her care and successes as well.”

Jenna also has herself to thank for her astonishing progress. She wouldn’t be where she is today without her bravery and resiliency throughout her journey. Much like the Stampeders, Jenna has a ‘Whatever it Takes’ attitude.

This little girl is one tough cookie.

“Jenna has so much determination, she does not quit,” said Defoe-Hall. “She doesn’t know the word no. She’s so persistent and determined. She doesn’t get down or upset about things, if she can’t do it she tries harder or finds another way to get it done.”

And that shining, unwavering personality is why Jenna continues to have a community united around her.
“Everybody has just fallen in love with her,” said Defoe-Hall. “That love is exactly what she needs right now to continue be successful with her milestones.”