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Blues fan Anderson, St. Louis hospital team up to raise awareness, funds

Video, website will highlight story of 11-year-old with rare brain disease

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

The St. Louis Children's Hospital had given so much to Laila Anderson. She wanted to give back.

After becoming perhaps the highest-profile St. Louis Blues fan as they captured their first Stanley Cup in June, the 11-year-old and her mother, Heather, believed they could help.

To that end, the St. Louis Children's Hospital is in production on a 25-minute documentary in partnership with the Blues that will allow viewers to better get to know Anderson, and not just through her disease, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, as part of their "Celebrate the Season" campaign as they ramp up solicitations for the holiday season. 

"We had an opportunity to tell her story from the hospital perspective and from her perspective, some of those untold things that you didn't hear about or that you may not have realized throughout the last six months," said Megan Perez, the director of donor engagement and experience at the St. Louis Children's Hospital Foundation. 

The hope is that the documentary, called "Laila: The Next Season," will show what the hospital was able to do for Anderson, who she is outside of her disease, and will raise funds to be able to provide the same level of diagnosis and care for other children.

Video: Looking at how Laila Anderson inspired the Blues

HLH, as her disease is known, is a severe systemic inflammatory syndrome that can be fatal. Her version of the disease is extremely rare, presenting itself in her brain as a neurological issue. That made it a particularly tricky diagnosis, but one that St. Louis Children's Hospital was well suited to, given the HLH and bone marrow transplant program that they have, which Perez said was one of the best in the country.

"The film will go into interviews with the fellow that diagnosed her," Perez said. "It talks a lot about how St. Louis Children's Hospital is best positioned to make that diagnosis and is one of only probably a handful of pediatric hospitals in the country that could have been able to make that diagnosis on the timeline that they had, which was a little over a year, and then also had a treatment plan in place to save her life."

Perez said they are in talks to partner with Fox Sports Midwest on the film, with the hope to air it on Dec. 14 at 6 p.m., with subsequent airings after that. 

But that's only one of the ways they're getting Anderson's story out. The hospital's website will also have weekly journal entries from Heather Anderson. 

"We have so many patients like her, but she really exemplifies the bravery that all of our patients have," Perez said of Laila. "Her story is an example of how St. Louis Children's Hospital is best positioned to care for kids with complex illnesses or diseases like hers."

Anderson became close with Blues players Colton Parayko and Alexander Steen and followed along as the Blues journeyed to the Cup, even celebrating after Game 7 of the Cup Final on TD Garden ice and receiving her own Stanley Cup ring after it was over. 

"Laila's family was always very open in wanting to tell her story," Perez said. "It's something her mom says a lot, like Children's never gave up on my kid, so if they can do anything to help, even [to help] just one other child get their diagnosis or get their treatment or find a donor match, then they want to tell their story and share the success of Laila."

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