When given the option to wish for anything in the world, 16-year-old Athena made an admirable and heartwarming choice—she chose to give back to those who had helped her.
Athena was an active teen who kept busy with many hobbies and interests, including volunteering, clubs, college prep, travelling, and adventures with friends and family. But being diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a condition that restricts her heart’s ability to pump blood, forced her to slow down.
“The toughest part was just not being able to do what I used to do,” Athena says.
Later on, Athena learned that she would require a heart transplant surgery, which required an extensive recovery period in the hospital. During that time, Athena was relieved to find out that she could continue her education at the Hospital School at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.
The school is a unique collaboration between the Palo Alto Unified School District and the hospital, which offers a full academic curriculum and ensures the continuity of education during treatment. While much of Athena’s life would be put on hold due to her condition, thankfully, her education would not.
At the Hospital School, Athena had developed a close bond with the teachers who supported her through her recovery and helped her invest in her future.
“During my stay in the hospital, I grew so much as a person, and really felt at home there,” Athena says. “Together, the Hospital School and the Pediatric Advanced Cardiac Therapies Program team helped save my life.”
Athena says she’ll be forever grateful for the care and compassion of the staff she worked with. That’s why she ultimately decided her wish would be to donate $5,000 split between the Pediatric Advanced Cardiac Therapies (PACT) Program at Packard Children’s and the Hospital School to ensure that more kids like her could benefit from their programming.
Athena learned she qualified for a wish about a month before the date of her surgery and she had plenty of time to reflect and think over her options during her recovery.
"They said I could choose any fun experience, trip, or even meet a celebrity," she says. The possibilities felt endless, which made her decision incredibly difficult. She considered meeting the cast of her favorite TV show, Grey’s Anatomy, or traveling to discover more about the world around her. But nothing felt quite right.
“When I was looking at options for my wish, I didn’t feel that any of them really expressed who I was and could truly fulfill me as a person,” she explains. “I realized that there wasn't anything I wanted more than giving back to the people who helped me through the hardest time in my life."
As she was recovering from surgery, Athena had her wish to look forward to. She says it was a huge motivator. “Thinking about my wish really just gave me so much hope for the future,” she explains. “It inspired me to keep working towards being healthy every day. It helped keep my mind away from the things that I was going through and made me much more of a happy person.”
Recently, Athena was able to surprise her teachers with the big announcement via a video call. "While I was in the hospital being treated, you were always there for me," she shared. "You helped me continue my education and keep learning despite the hard times I was going through."
“It really felt good to see it finally coming together and it made me really happy to see how much good I could do with my wish,” says Athena. “I hope that other children in the hospital will be able to continue their education and get the best treatment possible, like I did. I hope that they will be able to grow to appreciate the hospital for the amazing place it is.”
“Right now, it’s such a difficult time in the world and there’s really hard days for everyone. Just knowing that there are people like you out there, and our future is in hands like yours, it gives me hope, it makes me smiles, and it makes the future seem a while lot brighter,” Kathy Ho, teacher at the Hospital School, said to Athena. “We are so incredibly grateful to you and Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area for your gift, but I think more importantly I’m grateful to have gotten to know you, to have taught you, and to consider you and my family my friend.”
The impact of the wish will stick with Athena forever. “It inspires me to create change in my community,” she explains. “This wish really showed me how much I could do as a single person and inspires me to be a better person every day that I’m given the gift of life.”
To other kids with wishes waiting, Athena offers this message of hope: “I think that a wish is something so special, and it's such a gift to have! I spent a long time thinking about my wish, and I think that waiting makes it so much sweeter.”
While many wishes are currently on hold, we are still able to safely grant wishes like Athena’s just when they are needed most. We need your support so that wishes aren't kept waiting a day longer than necessary! Please donate today and shine a light of hope for wish kids like Athena.