Ned, Ansley, Hannah and Shep Hardison

The Hardison siblings have fond memories growing up in their Charlotte, NC, home. Their parents, Ann and Hooper, worked hard at balancing each of their children’s interests and maintaining a family atmosphere while searching for the cause of Hannah’s illness. It was a journey that would take the Hardisons across the country looking for answers, until a muscle biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of mitochondrial disease. “I was too young to understand the magnitude of how mitochondrial disease would affect her,” Shep remembers. He recalls a time when all of the Hardison kids were taken out to lunch by their babysitter. As they were leaving the restaurant, Shep remembered feeling the pain of the stares and comments from customers seated near the exit. “They kind of turned their heads and kept looking at Hannah until our babysitter said something to them,” Shep remembered. “Up to this point, we had grown up with people embracing Hannah for who she is, and it showed me that was not the case with everyone.” The experience gave Shep gratitude that he and his siblings, especially Hannah, are surrounded by supportive friends and family.

Ansley remembers a Christmas when one of her brothers bought Hannah a mirror as a gift. For Hannah, it was the best gift ever. “She loves looking at herself and appreciates the person that she is, and it’s a lesson that helps me carry myself throughout the world,” Ansley said.

The sisters have a special bond. “Whenever you cry, Hannah cries. Whenever you laugh, Hannah laughs,” Ansley said. “She doesn’t speak, but you know she is always there, on your wavelength, to support you.” 

Ned, Hannah’s oldest brother, is a second year resident in internal medicine and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN. From the time he was young, Ned knew he wanted to be a doctor. He says watching Hannah grow up had a profound impact on the decisions he made in both his life and career. “She made me realize how fortunate I am and caused me to have a great amount of empathy and understanding for other people who are going through the things that she is going through,” Ned said. He is inspired by Hannah and wants to focus on the care of families with children who have special needs. “There is a lot of good that you can do,” Ned said. “I get a lot of joy from interacting with families as a whole. I have always wanted to have this profession, and I think Hannah had a role to play there.”

Each year, the Hardison children return to Charlotte to honor Hannah by participating in the Energy for Life Walkathon and her team, Hope for Hannah. They love seeing other patient families and witnessing the joy the event brings to Hannah. “Because of the UMDF, we have a network of support for our family,” Ned said. Shep believes the educational information provided by UMDF has helped him explain Hannah’s illness to those who have never heard of mitochondrial disease. Seeing the level of support provided by the UMDF to patient families gives Ansley hope.