SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In June of 2000, we first introduced you to Carissa Brandt and her parents. Carissa was being treated for a brain tumor.
She became the poster child that year for the Children’s Miracle Network.
“When it first happened, I wondered why Carissa, she’s so innocent, six months old when this happened, she didn’t do anything wrong,” Lisa Brandt, Carissa’s mother said.
“Doctor came out and told us what was going on, everything just seemed so unreal,” Kelly Brandt, Carissa’s father said.
Doctors at Sanford Health performed a delicate procedure to remove as much of the tumor as they could.
The surgery almost proved to be too much for tiny Carissa. Doctors were preparing the Brandts for the worst. They told them to take pictures of Carissa and her sister Courtney, because it may be their last time together.
“Up until that point, we always thought Carissa was going to be fine, I think when they brought in the camera and put Courtney in the crib with her, that’s when maybe some realization hit,” Lisa said.
Carissa would undergo three more operations on her tiny skull.
That was almost 20 years ago and she came through with flying colors.
Carissa went on to graduate from high school and went onto college, became a medical assistant and is now working in her hometown of Pierre.
She says 20 years have flown by, but she tries to put all that in the past.
“I really don’t know much about it so I just kind of keep it,” Carissa said.
Carissa says going into the medical profession was any easy decision.
“Just kind of the way I’ve been helped and the way they treated me and my family, I just thought it would be best for me to give the same thing back and help out everyone else,” Carissa said.
The Children’s Miracle Network and the staff at Sanford Health were instrumental in saving her life and helping her family, too.
“We are in debt forever to those people because of the things they did. Nobody quit, let’s find a way to do this, let’s find a way to fight it, and we persevered and came out on top,” Kelly said.
“We were very lucky she had all the medical equipment she needed, all the medical expertise she needed to survive,” Lisa said.
Today she still volunteers for several different types of CMN fundraisers, most recently at a event in Pierre.
And that’s what mom and dad love about her.
“Just seeing Carissa advance the way she has all the things we were told that she probably never be able to do, she’s accomplished a lot; graduating high school graduating college getting a full time job just being successful, I think she’s amazed everybody,” Kelly said.
“I’ve never seen anyone so happy in the morning to get up and go to work every single day and you know she has that feeling of accomplishment every single day she walks out of the house and that’s just the best thing in the world to see,” Lisa said.
“It’s just kind of crazy how what she had to go through has impacted the rest of us and how things look different now sun comes up tomorrow, don’t worry about it everything will be fine,” Kelly said.
“Everything turned out great I mean she has a few side effects from some of the things she went through but for the most part she’s just like everybody else,” Kelly said.
The surgeries and chemotherapy affected Carissa’s speech and hearing and size, she’s only 4’11,” but as her dad always says her dynamite comes in small packages and Carissa is dynamite.
“She’s tiny, but she’s feisty and I love that about her she’s a great inspiration and once people get a chance to meet her and get to know who she is they realize she’s such a compassionate and caring person and she’s been there, she’s been on the other side of it, she’s been sick needed help and now it’s time to return that and she does a great job of doing it,” Lisa said.