Local girl Jatiana Hunt goes on the trip of a lifetime thanks to a guy named Bert
By Joshua Clark
In 2005, things were rough for Jatiana Hunt and her mother, Wendy. Jatiana was very sick, and despite numerous trips to several different doctors and hospitals, she wasn’t getting any better.
Jatiana was misdiagnosed with everything from a urinary tract infection to the flu. The ER doctor at a local hospital even told Wendy that her daughter was faking. “They told me there was no way she could hurt in that many places,” Wendy Hunt said. She was sent home, time after time, with little more than over-the-counter medications and vague instructions, until one weekend Jatiana began to vomit blood. In a panic, her mother again took her to the ER, where she was given Midol and told to take her daughter to an obstetrician. Jatiana woke the next day with a fever of 103 degrees.
Her mother took her this time to Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. It was there that Jatiana received the correct diagnosis: At age 12, she had ovarian cancer.
The diagnosis would begin a turbulent time in the lives of both Jatiana and Wendy, as well as their family. But Wendy and her daughter refused to allow the experience to be a solely negative one. “We try not to take this as a negative experience, we try to take it as a positive,” said Wendy. “It’s been hard, but with all of the support we’ve received, it has become better.”
It is ironic that the same place where Jatiana found that she had cancer, would prove to be the place she and Wendy came to feel of as their second home, but Wendy says the treatment given to them by Scottish Rite is unparalleled. “They made it great for us,” she said. “From the time we stepped into their ER, we were treated incredibly well.” In addition to treating Jatiana’s cancer, Wendy said Scottish Rite provided her with a bed of her own so she could stay by her daughter’s side during her battle.
But while inside the hospital Jatiana and Wendy were able to shut out the world, outside their world was beginning to crumble. As a result of the prolonged absence she took from work to be with her daughter, Wendy lost her job at a dental group. Ironically, she says that this most likely would have not been the case had the former Human Resources Director for the dental group not died of cancer shortly before. “After she died the whole infrastructure of the place fell apart,” said Wendy.
The treatments for Jatiana were also proving to be prohibitively expensive. One of her medications to combat nausea cost $1200 per pill. Jatiana underwent inpatient chemotherapy from April to July, which is not only extremely rigorous, but is also quite costly. Jatiana also required emergency surgery to remove her tumors, and a blood transfusion. “It was very, very expensive. You just don’t know where to begin,” Wendy said.
Without the help of Scottish Rite, her husband Phillip, son Jamiel, and the rest of her family members and friends, Wendy says she’s doesn’t know how her daughter could have made it. “She had a lot of support from her family and her school,” she said. “This has really restored our faith in humanity.”
Immediately after the surgery and her recovery, it was impossible for Jatiana to be a normal kid. Trips to the hospital and doctors’ offices made school difficult, but she has fought her way back. Jatiana, now 12, attends Eagle’s Landing Middle School. Her cancer is in remission.
“She won’t be deemed cancer free for five years, but it is in remission,” Wendy said.
Her daughter has come a long way in getting back to normal, but she has done a great job of it so far. Jatiana says that her favorite subjects in school are Social Studies and Math, although Math represents her lowest grade, a B.
She also already knows what she wants to be when she grows up – a chef. “I watch a the Food Network a lot,” Jatiana said. “My favorites are Rachel Ray and Emeril.”
Jatiana, Wendy and their family have come full circle since they arrived at the doorstep of the Emergency Room of Scottish Rite. Wendy is back in the dental field. Despite great odds, they are a complete family again. And perhaps, because they proved how strong they are, that is why Bert Weiss came into their lives.
At around the same time Jatiana found that her cancer was in remission the clouds broke even further. Her mother, at the encouragement of friends, had submitted an application for her daughter to be accepted as part of Bert’s Big Adventure, an annual outing for a few lucky Atlanta-area kids who have suffered life-threatening and chronic illnesses. And one day the phone rang. It was Bert.
Bert Weiss, Q100 radio personality and founder of Bert’s Big Adventure, calls each of the families personally to extend an invitation to join him on the annual trip to Disney World. Weiss says that despite being a radio personality and having done this for five years already, he still gets nervous when he places those calls. “I think it’s more excitement than anything,” Weiss said. “It’s a little like telling a family that Santa Claus is coming to town when they had thought Santa wasn’t coming at all.”
Weiss has been looking forward to playing Santa since his days as an assistant at a Dallas radio station. It was there that he first came across the idea for Bert’s Big Adventure, which he based on a similar outing his boss in Dallas undertook each year. “I went along on one of those trips and I saw the transformation among those families and the good it could do, and I thought to myself, if I ever get my own show the first thing I’m going to do is start something like that of my own.” He did, and since 2002, Weiss has been taking kids in Atlanta on an all-expense paid, VIP trip to Disney World. Families do not spend any of their own money on or during the trip. The group flies first class on Delta, and once at Disney World they are treated like celebrities.
Weiss says that it is the families that make the difference in the trip each year, and that this year in particular the camaraderie that he has noticed emerges between the families on the trip was more palpable than usual. “There was a chemistry between the families this year that I haven’t seen before,” he said.
Wendy Hunt noticed it too. “Once we got there, we became family with the others,” she said. The trip gave them a respite from the illness that had consumed their lives. “We didn’t think about any kind of sickness at all while we were there,” said Wendy.
While Bert Weiss says that the annual crowdpleaser is always meeting Mickey Mouse and seeing Cinderella’s Castle for the first time, Jatiana, it turns out, is something of a thrill-seeker. “My favorite ride was the Rockin’ Roller Coaster at MGM,” she said. “It was really fast.”
She says that she and the other kids found out that Bert had something of an aversion to traditional rollercoasters. “He wouldn’t go on the Tower of Terror with us,” Jatiana said. “We called him a scaredy-cat.”
Weiss explains the mix-up. “I felt that someone had to keep an eye on the purses to make sure they were safe and I volunteered for that job,” he said.
For more information on the annual Bert’s Big Adventure, visit their website at www.bertsbigadventure.org.
(This article originally appeared in the Henry County Times on 2/28/2007)