IHOP flips for 9-year-old cancer survivor Starla Chapman
BAY MINETTE, Ala. (AP) — Six years ago, Starla Chapman died in her father’s arms. The chemotherapy treatment she was receiving for acute myeloid leukemia had weakened her heart to the point that it stopped. “She is on life support and we need a miracle,” her mother, DeAndra Chapman, posted on the Facebook page her sisters started for Starla.
Thanks to the quick work of doctors and nurses at the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital who revived her, Starla was brought back to life — and, after her fifth round of chemo, she was officially in remission as of April 2012.
Today, cancer-free and also free of any heart medications, Starla continues to be a shining star, a light in the world that refused to go out.
Now 9 years old, she’s a third-grade honor student at Bay Minette Elementary School, where she serves as a Peer Helper. She has a little brother, 5-year-old KJ, who idolizes her. She enjoys gymnastics, cooking and making YouTube videos. And she has 30,000 followers on the “Starla Chapman Support Page” on Facebook, where her mother provides frequent updates.
Starla’s family received the miracle they prayed for so desperately during those dark days in the hospital. And since surviving leukemia and heart failure, the bubbly little girl and her family are still working to increase awareness, raise funds for pediatric cancer research and help other children who are struggling with cancer diagnoses. Every year in September, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Starla sells countless cups of lemonade for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. This past September, her team raised more than $2,500.
“One thing we vowed to do when she was released from the hospital was to do whatever we could to give back,” DeAndra says. “We were so blessed.”
Now the inspiring girl has been named IHOP’s first-ever “Kid Head Chef.” Her role was announced on National Pancake Day, Tuesday, Feb. 26. Then, on Thursday night at IHOP on Airport Boulevard in Mobile, surrounded by family and friends — including a surprise visit from her buddy AJ McCarron, the former Crimson Tide quarterback who now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals — she cooked her pancakes, using the original recipe that helped her win over hundreds of other entries in a contest for children who were treated in hospitals that are part of the Children’s Medical Network.
Starla’s winning pancake is based on an oatmeal raisin cookie recipe that she used to cook alongside her maternal grandmother. Her Nanny died in 2015, so the pancake recipe is a way to honor her memory, DeAndra says. The pancake is topped with cream cheese icing and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
In February, Starla found out she was one of three finalists in the IHOP Kid Culinary Team contest. She and her mom, DeAndra Chapman, traveled to Los Angeles to visit IHOP’s test kitchen. A big fan of cooking shows like “Beat Bobby Flay,” Starla charmed the judges, including the company’s president, Darren Rebelez, who raved about her combination of a cookie recipe with a breakfast staple.
Starla and DeAndra made a quick trip to New York City this past weekend for a day of interviews with TV and radio stations around the country to promote National Pancake Day for IHOP, a longtime supporter of Children’s Miracle Network.
This week, Starla is in Orlando for Children’s Miracle Network’s Children’s Hospitals Week. She’ll be featured on a Facebook Live-a-thon on Wednesday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m. On Thursday, March 8 at 8 a.m., she will be on Facebook Live again in the IHOP live lounge, where she will make her pancakes and answer questions. Both videos can be found on the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Facebook page.
It’s a busy time for Starla, whose life has been a whirlwind of activity since she left the Mobile hospital at three years old and served as the 2012 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Girl of the Year. She has served as grand marshal for Mardi Gras parades, including Order of Venus and Mammoth. For the past seven years, an annual motorcycle ride has been held in her honor. The BMB Rockets Starla Ride started out to support Starla’s family, but now it provides college scholarship money to a needy student each year. In 2014, she represented the state of Alabama as the 2014 Champion Child ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
In July of 2014, wearing a poufy white dress, 5-year-old Starla was a flower girl in McCarron’s wedding to Katherine Webb. She had met the football player from Mobile when he visited her at USA Children’s and Women’s on Christmas Eve in 2011. He was smitten with the little girl in the Crimson Tide cheerleader outfit and wore the bracelet she gave him when he played in the BCS National Championship game, which Alabama won.
At that time, Starla was gravely ill. Soon after AJ’s visit, she went into cardiac arrest and was on life support. “We were told her prognosis was very dismal, to prepare to say our goodbyes,” DeAndra says.
On the night before Starla was to receive chemotherapy for the first time, DeAndra can remember that she and her husband, Korey, were trying to be strong for their daughter. But Starla could sense that something was wrong.
“Daddy, just trust,” the little girl said to her father.
From across the room, DeAndra, stunned at what she’d just heard, asked Starla to repeat what she’d said.
“Mama, you just trust, too,” she said.
The wisdom out of the mouth of a precocious 3-year-old has, from then on, been the family’s motto. Just trust.
“I’m the mom of a miracle,” DeAndra says. “It’s like my mother used to say: The favor of God is always better than money. We definitely feel it’s God’s orchestration. The purpose of her being here is to tell her story.”