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During a run for her fourth-grade PE class, Athena started to feel pain in her chest. Her heart was racing, and she struggled to breathe. But she kept going and didn’t tell anyone about it.

A year and a half later, she was running around the track at school. This time, Athena fainted. Her parents took her to the pediatrician, who didn’t find anything abnormal. She went back to her routine.

A couple of months later, Athena fainted again. Her family turned to Packard Children’s for help.

Athena was diagnosed with a rare heart condition called restrictive cardiomyopathy, where the heart becomes stiff and is unable to function properly. Dr. Beth Kaufman and her team walked Athena’s family through the diagnosis and treatment.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure yet for this disease, except for a transplant.

“This came as a total shock, but the staff guided us through,” Athena explains.

One night in May 2017, when she was in seventh grade, Athena woke up in the middle of the night crying. Her parents rushed in to find Athena unable to talk or move her limbs. They called 911. Their local hospital diagnosed it as a stroke, but they had never dealt with a pediatric stroke before. Athena’s father, Tuan, contacted Packard Children’s, and an ambulance arrived to take Athena to the hospital for an emergency surgery to remove a clot. Athena was able to move her right limbs and left leg again, but it would take months of rehab to help her regain strength and coordination in her left arm.

Six months later, Athena’s conditions worsened, and she was back at Packard Children’s, waiting for her transplant.

“A month later in December, I got an early Christmas gift: a healthy heart that fit me just fine,” recalls Athena.

The transplant gave Athena a new chance at life.

“I only spent a few days in the hospital after my transplant,” says Athena. “I was free. But not totally free—I was trapped by medications, safety procedures, masks, and by far the most important: hand sanitizer. My family and doctors helped me understand that these precautions were all for my health, well-being, and happiness.”

Today, Athena is a senior in high school and plans to study at UC Santa Barbara next year. She spends her free time cooking, volunteering, spreading awareness for organ transplant, painting, and trying new foods. She also enjoys exploring new places and having fun with her family and friends. 

Athena has spent many years volunteering at Summer Scamper and sharing her story with the Packard Children’s donor community. When she was granted a wish by the Make-A-Wish organization, she donated back to her heart team, as well as the Packard Children’s Hospital School, both of whom she credits with her healing mind and body.

We are thrilled to honor Athena as a 2022 Summer Scamper Patient Hero.

“I hope you know that I’m here—alive—because of your generosity and commitment to the hospital,” Athena says. “From the bottom of my (adopted) heart and the hearts of hundreds of families like mine: thank you.”