Bethany Riegert spent her summer prodded and poked by doctors after she was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital's pediatric intensive care unit with kidney disease.
Bethany, 10, of Manchester was able to find solace in art, and now that she's out of the hospital and feeling better, she's using it as a way of giving back.
The doctors and nurses knew Bethany liked to draw, and they suggested she submit a piece of art for the American Kidney Fund calendar. She drew a picture of a nurse giving a young patient a gift and sent it in.
Then she and her family forgot they had submitted it until they got a call saying she was a finalist.
"I was confused, but I was also ecstatic. I thought it was a prank call for a second, but then I was like, 'Oh, this is real,'" Bethany said.
She is now one of 13 finalists. Each finalist's artwork will be included in the calendar, but the winner of the contest's artwork will be featured on the cover.
The Riegerts don't know how many votes Bethany's art has received, but she had family and friends vote for her.
"And I told a few friends, and one of my friends said her whole family is voting for me," Bethany said.
It's not the first time Bethany's friends or family have supported her. While she was sick, the community came together around her, her parents, Kendall and Frank Riegert, said.
Frank Riegert said his job allowed him to work alternative hours, and since one parent was usually at the hospital with Bethany, other members of the community came together to make sure the Riegerts' two other children were fed.
The North Carroll Soccer Club, Tree of Friends Foundation and Once Upon a Dream Photography were a few of the community organizations that came to help, Kendall Riegert said. And the fifth-grade class at Ebb Valley Elementary School, where Bethany attends, made her cards, she said.
Bethany also received several gifts while in the hospital. She had more than she needed, so she ended up donating a lot of the items she received to Carroll Hospital's pediatric center, Kendall Riegert said.
Bethany is also giving back through her art, she said. Her picture of a nurse giving a young patient a present was a way to thank the nurses and the doctors for what they did for her, she said.
"There were lots of kind nurses and doctors who were at the hospital who did kind things for me," Bethany said.
Bethany was admitted to the hospital for approximately a month, Frank Riegert said.
What her parents thought was a stomach bug turned into hemolytic uremic syndrome, which stems from E. Coli and can cause kidney failure, he said.
While the disease affects the kidneys, it can also cause problems with the brain and pancreas. At Bethany's worst, she was having seizures, he said.
"It got really scary because once it gets to a certain point there's only so much they could do," Frank Riegert said.
Bethany ended up needing peritoneal dialysis, meaning she needed surgery that would put a port in her stomach area. Her nurses made her a Build-a-Bear dog prior to the surgery, but unlike most Build-a-Bear stuffed animals, this one also came with a port.
Frank and Kendall Riegert said they were lucky Hopkins is so close, adding that the staff of nurses and doctors tasked with Bethany's care were great.
"It takes a special type of person to work down there," Kendall Riegert said.
Frank Riegert said he doesn't think his daughter realized how sick she was or that she could have died.
Bethany said she didn't think about how sick she was while in the hospital.
"It was sad because sometimes I was really lonely. And other times I was happy because people were thinking about me," Bethany said.
And drawing helped keep her mind off her illness. She drew a lot while in the hospital and it was relaxing, she said.
Bethany is back at home, and the family's hoping an upcoming check-up will say she is continuing to do well. If the check-up comes back with positive news, Bethany will only have to go to the doctor annually to keep an eye on any lasting effects of the disease, Frank Riegert said.
The American Kidney Fund calendar contest ends on April 14. Last year, about 4,500 people voted, Kendall Riegert said.
"I like that it's a way to thank everyone for what they did," Kendall Riegert said.
How to vote for Bethany's artwork
Visit http://www.kidneyfund.org/get-involved/ways-to-get-involved/calendar-kids-contest.html. Bethany's piece is called "A Gift for You" and is the first piece of art listed.