Certain stories made us feel pretty good this year.
Some stories were about children or adults who overcame cancer or physical or mental illness, who are now living their best life despite these challenges.
Others were about people who had a birth or breastfeeding experience that we found pretty inspiring.
The world is a difficult place to be in sometimes. These were some inspiring stories of people who faced health problems or challenges, had a cool life experience, or underwent groundbreaking surgery, which made us feel a little bit better about being in this world.
1. Batkid was declared cancer-free.
Miles Scott stole everyone's heart as a 5-year-old leukemia patient who took over San Francisco in 2013 as Batkid after he told the Make-A-Wish Foundation that he wanted to be Batman. People crowded the streets to cheer him on after San Francisco was turned into Gotham for a day with the help of late mayor Ed Lee and 20,000 volunteers. This year, the foundation announced that Miles, now 10, has been in remission for five years. This is an important milestone when many people can be considered as likely to be cancer-free.
2. This nurse realized that the last time she met her new coworker doctor was when she cared for him years ago as a preemie.
Brandon Seminatore is a pediatric resident in California and ended up working at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, the same hospital where he was born decades earlier.
A preemie (he was born at 29 weeks of gestation, while a full-term pregnancy is around 40 weeks), he spent more than a month in the neonatal intensive care unit.
A nurse named Vilma Wong, who had worked at the hospital for 32 years, thought his name sounded familiar.
“To confirm, I asked him if his dad was a police officer, and there was a big silence. And then he asked me if I was Vilma. I said yes,” Wong said.
Seminatore was impressed with Wong's dedication and love for her patients, so much so that she remembered the family decades later. They both hope their story lifts up parents who are undergoing a difficult time and have babies in a newborn intensive care unit.
3. This little girl with big, beautiful eyes.
Mehlani lives in Minnesota, and her mom, Karina Martinez, is often stopped by strangers who comment on the toddler's big, beautiful eyes. The little girl has Axenfeld-Rieger syndrome, a genetic condition that can cause eye abnormalities and increase the risk of glaucoma, a sight-robbing condition.
Martinez tweeted about her daughter's condition this year, and the tweets went viral. After that, parents of other children with the condition reached out to her, which has been helpful.
"People are super nice and just letting me know if I had any questions I could ask them," she told BuzzFeed News.
4. This woman walked with the help of an epidural stimulator implanted in her spine.
This year was an exciting one when it came to research into treatments for spinal cord injuries that have caused complete paralysis from the chest or waist down. Once told there was no hope they could ever walk again, a handful of paralyzed patients had a treatment — an epidural stimulator implanted in the spine — that seemed to offer a more hopeful prognosis, as reported by at least three separate research teams.
After months of arduous training after the epidural stimulators were put into place, the patients have been able to recover at least some ability to take steps — and, in one woman's case, actually use a walker instead of a wheelchair, at least some of the time while at home.
Kelly Thomas of Citrus County, Florida, had the implant and training, and can now switch on the device and use a walker to stand and take steps around her home.
“I don’t want people to think you just turn it on and you are good to go — that’s not the case. It takes hours and hours and hours of dedication,” she told BuzzFeed News. “It’s not for the faint of heart … There are days you just want to cry and quit.”
The research teams working on this include the Kentucky Spinal Cord Research Center at the University of Louisville, which pioneered the technique; a team at University of California Los Angeles and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, as well as one at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland.
5. This little girl taught the world about a rare genetic syndrome.
Taylor McGowan was born with uncombable hair syndrome, and that's a real and very rare genetic condition.
She has two copies of a gene — one inherited from each parent — that changes the shape of the hair shaft and causes fine hair that often stands up straight around her head. Her parents sent blood samples to Regina Betz at the University of Bonn, who has published research on the condition, which is also called "spun glass hair syndrome."
Taylor definitely has the condition, and her parents are carriers. Some people have pointed and laughed at Taylor's hair, her mom, Cara McGowan, told BuzzFeed News. The family is hoping to raise awareness of the condition, and encourage more tolerance of unique characteristics in general, she said.
6. This woman embraced her body, which at one point in her life was a source of depression.
Lorena Bolaños was born with a large congenital nevus, a mole that covers a large portion of her body. As a child, classmates made fun of her and adults thought it was an illness that could make other people sick.
Bolaños had a photo shoot as part of Underneath We Are Women, a project that showcases women of all body types.
"My objective is that everybody needs to understand that self-acceptance is the first step to achieve happiness," Bolaños told BuzzFeed News.
7. This mom discovered her baby had Down syndrome during an emotional water birth.
Amber Rojas said that she knew almost right away that her baby, a little girl named Amadeus Reign Rojas (or Ami as her family calls her), had Down syndrome. The entire family, including Amber's husband Fernando and the couple's four other children, were present during the moving water birth, along with their birth photographer.
Ami was also born with a heart defect that is common in children with Down syndrome, but after a challenging start with heart surgery and a respiratory infection that landed her in the hospital, Ami is doing well. (Follow her on Instagram to see how Ami is doing.)
8. An unidentified veteran had the first penis and scrotum transplant.
This year, an unidentified US veteran, who was injured in Afghanistan, underwent the world's first penis and scrotum transplant.
Although there have been at least three penis transplants, this was the first to use so much tissue and to include the scrotum, according to the team that performed the transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
9. This mom saw her baby being born through a clear plastic drape during a cesarean section.
Allison and Brent live in Madison, Alabama, and found out during the 20th week of pregnancy that Alison had placenta previa. That's a condition where the placenta covers the opening of the cervix, increasing the risk of bleeding or rupture of the placenta during labor.
They knew that Alison needed to have a cesarean section, but the couple wanted to have a "gentle cesarean" or "family-centered cesarean" if possible. That's an approach that incorporates as many elements of a vaginal birth — like seeing the baby as soon as it's born — into a cesarean birth as possible.
So they requested using a clear drape during the delivery, a method in which the surgical drape is lowered just before the baby is born, so the parents can witness the birth.
Because of the angle of the drapes, if you are giving birth you can't really see the surgical incision. "It’s not a gory thing," Allison told BuzzFeed News. "You don’t actually watch the procedure or them do the incision."
They had a baby boy via cesarean section March 2. "All you see is your baby," said Allison. "It's pretty special."
10. A little girl born without legs was a true "warrior queen" in this photo shoot.
La'Mareea Waddell was born with caudal regression syndrome, a rare condition in which the bones of the lower spine and legs are missing or may be malformed.
La'Mareea lives in Junction City, Ohio. This year her mom, Angela Neal, reached out to Lancaster, Ohio–based Elegant Ele Fine Art Photography and Design, which had put out a call for models. Neal wanted to know if La'Mareea's condition would preclude her from being in a photo shoot. In fact, the photographer, "thought it was really cool that La'Mareea was different," Neal said.
The images were so fierce, the photographer called her the "warrior queen," and if you check out the images from La'Mareea's photo shoot you will see that name is entirely accurate.
11. This 26-year-old man had one of the fastest recoveries from a face transplant yet.
Cameron Underwood of Yuba City, California, had a face transplant in January, about 18 months after he was injured from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A 100-person medical team at NYU Langone made it possible, including his surgeon, Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez.
Underwood had a relatively quick recovery, due in part to his good physical health and his dedication to recovery, Rodriguez told BuzzFeed News. Underwood also underwent an extensive psychological evaluation before having the procedure.
"People that have gone through or are going through the same kind of mental illness that I went through: There is help out there," Underwood told BuzzFeed News. "Ultimately you want to check it before it gets to my stage, but just talk to somebody, even friends or family. It might be difficult but it’s worth it."
12. This model breastfed while walking the runway.
Mara Martin is one of 16 finalists chosen from a model search for Sports Illustrated's Miami fashion show. She decided to take her breastfeeding 5-month-old along with her on the catwalk.
And I think we can all agree, that's pretty badass. Rock on, mama.
13. This adorable 6-year-old was all of us going for a run.
Evelyn is 6, lives in Kansas, and asked her big sister, Sirena Salazar, if she could go on a run with her.
Evelyn quickly found her run more challenging than she thought and wondered why her heart was beating so fast. She said she felt like her "heart is crying."
Salazar tweeted about it, and it went viral, because, well, it's extremely relatable. She recovered from her run, and we're hoping she gives it another try in 2019.
14. This mom breastfed at her hockey game, demonstrating yet again that breastfeeding is totally cool and normal thing to do.
This is a sweet little story that people who love hockey and breastfeeding (meaning everyone) will like.
Serah Small is a hockey player who lives in Grande Prairie, Alberta, in Canada, who felt her milk come in while playing. She fed her 8-week-old in the locker room between periods, because, you know, babies get hungry. Milky Way Lactation Services shared the photo.
"Being a mom is absolutely amazing, and I'm so happy I got to do something I absolutely love while still meeting my baby's needs," Small told Milky Way. "Our bodies are amazing, and this weekend was the first time I truly appreciated mine."
15. This teen turned to the internet for help for her autistic brother's hard-to-treat acne related to his medication.
Callie Ross-Smith is a college student in Chico, California, and has a younger autistic brother, Alec. He's nonverbal and takes medication that has caused him to have painful acne for years. She posted in /r/SkincareAddiction on Reddit asking for help.
People immediately asked questions and offered solutions. Ross-Smith said she was blown away by the response and came up with a new routine to help her brother's skin. She hopes that people will be better able to see him for who he really is.
“I want to see in the long run if his acne improves, if people see him more," she said.
16. These twins immediately stopped crying as soon as they touched each other again.
Weston and Caleb Lyman were born in February 2018 and pretty much became internet-famous right away. That's because as soon as they were born, they were separated to be weighed, and they started crying, as newborns sometimes do.
But what happened next was pretty special. In a video their dad, Dane Lyman, posted to Facebook, the twins immediately stopped crying as soon as they touched each other again.
It's pretty sweet. We recommend watching it whenever you think the world is terrible.
17. This 27-year-old died of cancer but wrote a letter so moving, she helped many other people learn how to live every day.
In January, 27-year-old Holly Butcher posted a list of life lessons to Facebook a day before she died of cancer. Butcher lived in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia, and had Ewing sarcoma, a rare type of bone or soft tissue cancer that mostly affects younger people. The letter was shared nearly 170,000 times.
You should read Holly's letter in its entirety, but in it she talks about loving your body, living in the moment, and recognizing what's really meaningful in life.
"I just want people to stop worrying so much about the small, meaningless stresses in life and try to remember that we all have the same fate after it all," she wrote, "so do what you can to make your time feel worthy and great, minus the bullshit."
Ed Lee’s name and the name of Yuba City, California, were misstated in an earlier version of this post.