Someone You Should Know: 6-year-old boy named Sanford Children’s Miracle Network Champion

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 4:30 PM CDT
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MADISON, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Joe Gitzen remembers August 31, 2018 vividly.

“It was supposed to be a 45-minute operation and turns out to be longer. You start to worry and then when the nurses ask you to come back to another room and sit you down, and the doctor comes in and goes, ‘He has cancer.’ The bottom of your world just drops out,” Joe said.

Just about a month earlier on July 25th, Gabe Gitzen’s parents noticed his right tonsil was red and swollen. He was put on antibiotics but nothing helped. So Gabe went in for a tonsillectomy and that’s when the doctor told them it was cancer, Burkitt Lymphoma.

“It felt like a Hulk punched me in the gut, the Hulk strength. My ears heard it, but I didn’t really believe it. I knew what he was saying, but I didn’t. Not my son. But my body reacted, like I started crying right away even though I didn’t understand what was happening,” Sarah Gitzen said. She is Gabe’s mom.

“For me, the nights were worse, just laying in bed, thinking about the worst,” Joe said.

Sarah and Joe said they were lucky because doctors caught Gabe’s cancer early. He did four rounds of chemotherapy and rang the bell on November 27, 2018. He’s been in remission for about two and a half years. This year, the 6 year old was named the Sanford Children’s Miracle Network Champion.

“Children’s Miracle Network as a national organization has set up a champions system, where each hospital that is a member hospital, gets to designate a champion that gets to represent them for the year,” Bethany Olson said. She is the program director for Sanford Children’s Miracle Network.

Gabe will represent Sanford Children’s Hospital in a variety of events, like Miracle Treat Day and Radiothon.

“He’s always been our champion and Madison’s champion, so it’s really awesome he’s the Sanford Children’s Champion,” Sarah said.

Gabe’s family has turned this into an opportunity to give back to CMN.

“We just love the hospital so much. It’s become our family,” she said. “We just want to do what we can because they’ve supported us through our worst days, and it’s just awesome to give back to what they’ve given to us.”

The Gitzen family has set up an Etsy store to sell some of Gabe’s shirts, mugs and face masks to raise money locally. You can also find more information about the events Gabe will attend on his Facebook page.

Nationally, Children’s Miracle Network will pick 10 kids out of 170 champions that represent different hospitals across the nation. If Gabe is selected as one of those 10 kids, he will be on national advertisements for CMN. He won’t find out until 2022 if he’s been selected.

As always, if there is someone you think we should all know, please email a nomination to

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