PA Students help grant a special Birthday Wish

by Nyla on August 30, 2013 · 2:00 pm

SJVC Physician's Assistant Program Grant Birthday WishWhen Visalia Physician Assistant student Frances Robinson saw an ABC news story about Emma Ritter, whose only wish was to get 100 birthday cards sent to her Valley Children’s Hospital room for her 7th birthday, she knew she had to help make that happen.

“It would be a small gesture, but one that would help to make her wish a reality,” says Frances.

Then Frances took another step. She bought enough cards for her entire PA class of 22 students to sign…and things took off! Word got around that Frances was going to hand-carry the birthday cards and birthday balloons to Emma at the Fresno hospital where she was being treated for cystic fibrosis.

“Classmates came to me with donations and, before I knew it, we had enough money for balloons, two small gifts and a Toys R Us gift card!” A few PA students also volunteered to help deliver the bounty and well-wishes from their class.

The Visalia PA students are particularly interested in helping someone like Emma because cystic fibrosis is something they will undoubtedly treat throughout their health care careers.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited and chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the U.S. A defective gene causes the body to produce mucus that clogs the lungs and can lead to life-threatening infections, while it also obstructs the pancreas, which causes difficulty in food absorption.

Emma’s parents, Lisa and Matt, had set up a Facebook page about Emma’s birthday wish and that, combined with the news program about their young daughter’s wish, threw them all into the media spotlight. As grateful as they were for the public’s interest in their little girl’s health struggles and upcoming birthday, they were also a little overwhelmed.

Frances called the hospital to ask permission to drop off the cards and balloons at hospital reception, but once a nurse heard what SJVC students had done, Frances’s call was transferred to Emma’s mom, Lisa.

“We were honored that Lisa invited us to meet with Emma when we came to the hospital,” says Frances.

On Emma’s birthday, SJVC’s PA students arrived at the hospital to find the front desk turning away groups of people, but our students were taken to a play area where Emma, dressed as a princess, was playing miniature golf with her family.

“She was all smiles,” says Frances, “and her parents were so thankful to us for doing this for Emma.” Though energetic and excited to open her gifts, Emma was clearly a patient.

“I didn’t know what state of health she would be in,” says PA student Shawn Luna. “She was playing outside in the hospital courtyard while hooked to an IV pole.”

“I am proud that our class was able to be a part of Emma’s special day,” says Frances. “As PA students, we’re learning all there is to know about disease, but we cannot learn about how they affect real lives and families until we experience moments like meeting Emma.”

PA students returned with the family to Emma’s room, which was alive with colorful birthday cards from all over the world. SJVC students’ cards seemed to fit right in with the enthusiastic well-wishes from others who also heard a little girl’s voice asking for just a bit of extra love and attention for a special day happening during a difficult time.

“It was heart-warming to see a happy, lovely young girl overwhelmed with joy seeing people (strangers) visit and care about her,” says Linda Hudson, one of the PA students visiting Emma.

“We are so very proud of the class of 2014’s compassion for others and service to the community,” says Les Howard, PA Program Director. “That has to come from the heart; it’s not something they learn in a book.”

“I was grateful to have a small part in celebrating her birthday,” says Shawn. “And, I hope she got her wish of 100 birthday cards. I don’t think she would mind if she hadn’t,” he says. “Her lively spirit, her optimistic family and joyous presence left me thankful and hopeful.”

At last count, Emma received over 10,000 cards wishing her the very best birthday ever.

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