On this special holiday edition of Frontiers, we look at two tales of giving – a community’s embrace of a child with cancer and an Alaska Airline pilot’s gift of a life-saving kidney to a co-worker.

Here are some of the highlights from the show:    

  • The Kodiak Way: How, from the age of five, the community has stood behind Maddy Sickafoose for almost a decade in her battle against a rare bone cancer and the amputation of her arm.
  • Lessons of a Lifetime: We visit with Maddy as she waits through the process of getting a prosthetic arm. 
  • 'Tis the Season: We visit with Maddy’s family as they get ready for the holidays. Maddy shows us her new arm.
  • An Epic Year: A conversation with Jodi Harskamp and Jenny Stansel. Both work for Alaska Airlines, but they now share something special between them – a kidney Jodi donated in March to help Jenny get a new lease on life.

What I love most about working on Frontiers is the chance to talk with remarkable Alaskans, who are often ordinary people yet have faced some extraordinary challenges.

I met Maddy Sickafoose, her mother and her grandmother shortly after she lost her arm in March. At our first meeting, I was struck by her poise as she showed me how her arm was amputated from below the elbow.

Maddy is now fourteen, and has fought cancer since she was five. When she was younger, doctors removed a tumor in her arm, but the bone never healed and was a source of constant pain. Although Maddy said she still has phantom pains from her surgery, she was relieved to regain freedom from the non-stop pain of her unhealed arm and feels lucky to be alive. There were some stages in her cancer journey when she was bald and pale, and yet she is here today, with a long glossy head of hair and glowing skin. 

Her mother and grandmother, Jessica and Robin Gardner, believe Kodiak’s generosity and caring is what kept Maddy alive.

And that is really what this show is about, as well as Maddy’s amazing resilience and presence of mind. There’s so much about Maddy that we did not have a chance to get into in our story – the fact that she’s a good student, with a talent for drawing and a beautiful voice.

Also, now that the family has gotten over some of the biggest hurdles for Maddy, they’ve turned their attention to giving back. For example, they raised enough money to pay for holiday dinners at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle. Maddy’s grandmother, Robin, says they know what it means for families who are surrounded by sickness and hungry for hope.

Maddy herself is a believer in the power of hope – and was struck by how easy it can sometimes be to share it with others. She approached a boy at Disney World in Florida who was bald and had that “chemo look” – and discovered he was on a “Make a Wish Foundation” trip, which she had also been on. She said she couldn’t believe his reaction when she told him she had fought cancer and that everything was going to be OK.

“He just like lit up,” Maddy said. “I’ve never seen anyone do that when I talked to them before.” 

And that conversation sparked in Maddy a desire to help other children, as well as raise awareness about what kids go through when they’re fighting cancer.

Will Mader, our main Frontiers photojournalist, and I were filled with admiration for Maddy and her family and have been inspired by the spirit of generosity that permeates Kodiak. This show truly is from our hearts to yours.

The icing on the cake is our conversation with Jodi Harskamp and Jenny Stansel about Jodi’s decision to donate one of her kidneys to help Jenny, who was on dialysis and not given much time left to live.

Will and I met Jodi at Westchester Lagoon last December as we interviewed skaters about their hopes for the New Year. Jodi took me aback when she said, “It’s going to be an epic year.”

“Epic, in what way?” I asked.

And at that point she announced she was going to donate a kidney to her co-worker. 

It was nice to have Jodi and Jenny on Frontiers, to bring this conversation full circle.

We hope this program brightens your holidays with inspiration. From all of us at KTVA, may your days be bright and merry as we welcome 2018.