Whitney McClain was about 10 years old when the headaches became a real problem. Doctors couldn’t discover the cause. Then, on a particularly scary night when she was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, her family insisted on answers, and Whitney was transferred to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
There, tests revealed she suffered from juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, a rare childhood brain tumor. The tumor was benign, but it had swelled to the size of a grapefruit. It took two surgeries – the second performed by Nate Selden, M.D., Mario and Edith Campagna Chair of Pediatric Neurosurgery – to fully remove it.
“Doernbecher is the place that saved my life,” Whitney recalled.
Which explains why the 22-year-old took a break from her blossoming singing career in late December 2015 to visit Doernbecher and spread some holiday cheer. Whitney and her mother, Pam McClain, delivered gifts to current patients, and presented a $10,000 check to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital to help support construction of the new OHSU Guest House on Portland’s South Waterfront. The guest house will provide much-needed accommodations for children and families traveling long distances for treatment at Doernbecher. Construction will begin this year.
For Whitney, the trip to Doernbecher was her first since she completed follow-up care several years ago. Since then, she has attended the University of Texas and launched a singing career.
She was delighted to reconnect with staff, meet young patients and revisit some of the positive memories of her Doernbecher connection, including her stint in 2007 as a guest designer for the special “Freestyle Collection" — a partnership between Nike and Doernbecher in which selected patients create a pair of shoes with Nike designers each year.
“It’s kind of overwhelming to be back,” Whitney said. “I’m so thankful for how great I was treated here. If I can help another kid and give some hope to hold onto — it makes me tear up.
“I feel hope. It’s very uplifting to return here.”