INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — At 1 years old, little Mia Benge already had it much harder than her smile and dainty dresses could show.
“Mia at 7 months old would have breath-holding spells. She would hold her breath and pass out,” said her mother Keri Benge.
“We had the MRI, and they found a grapefruit-sized tumor behind her right eye. Took a portion of it out. Had to leave a portion because if she would've taken any more out, would've left me a blind, speechless everything," Mia said.
After surgery to remove the tumor, Mia was a bright-eyed, active, carefree girl again for 10 years. Then came yet another shock.
“Seventh grade they did an MRI and found that her tumor had spread. Not only back, it had also gone down her spine,” said Keri.
This time, it meant Mia needed six weeks of radiation treatment on her brain and spine. And that was before, without warning, she had a debilitating stroke.
“The first three days we were told she’s not going to make it. there’s nothing more they can do,” remembers Keri.
“I did sign her death certificate.”
But it was in Riley Hospital where Mia’s story took an unexpected, sharp turn right into the life of her new best friend.
"Well she ended up making it through the night. And then the next night," Keri said proudly. “And she just continued to surprise and prove people wrong is what she likes to say.”
To celebrate her miraculous recovery, former Colt Matt Overton threw Mia a Taco Bell/Justin Bieber party and introduced her to Mariah, a Colts cheerleader.
“I just remember thinking how in the world are they saying this girl didn’t have a chance of living? Saying all these things that she couldn’t do. And she’s sitting there stealing our poms and saying all these little sassy jokes,” Mariah said beaming.
It was the beginning of a dazzling friendship.
Mia, out of the hospital and now in a wheelchair, is now a Colts junior cheerleader and closer to her biggest buddy.
“She sits in her hot pink chair on game days and shakes her poms and smiles don’t you? I always tell her you’ve got to have the biggest smile and the straightest arms,” said Mariah.
It’s easy to see how the colts changed Mia.
And how Mia touched Mariah.
“It's just really inspiring to watch a young girl who’s been through so much not let that affect her,” Mariah said. "She's gonna live no matter what you say or what you’re gonna put on her. She's gonna do what she wants. It's Mia’s life.”
Mia still deals with weakness on her right side. But that doesn’t stop her from cheering or helping other stroke victims.
To strengthen her motor skills, she tied blankets, and now she provides these blankets and their therapeutic power to kids with disabilities at Speedway High School.