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Hi, Children’s Fund donors! I’m Athena. I’m almost 16 years old, and I want to share my story of how Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford—and you—saved my life.

I was born and raised here in the Bay Area. My family is somewhat the typical Silicon Valley one. My parents are Vietnamese refugees who fled the communist regime and resettled in the U.S. in the early 1980s. My father (in the photo above) is an engineer. My mother is a dentist.

Our life was quite uneventful until I got to fourth grade.

We lived a pretty active and fun life. We traveled a lot and loved hiking, and I remember I was pretty good at that.

Then one day I was running during a PE class when I started to feel pain in my chest. My heart was racing, and it was hard to breathe. But I kept going and didn’t tell anyone about it.

A year and a half later, I was running around the track at school. This time, I fainted. My parents took me to the pediatrician, who didn’t find anything abnormal. So, I went back to my routine.

A couple of months later, I fainted again. After seeing a few doctors, my family turned to Packard Children’s for help.

My Packard Children’s Journey

I 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 kindly walked my 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 as I waited for a new heart.

One night in May 2017, when I was in seventh grade, I woke up in the middle of the night crying. My parents rushed in to find me unable to talk or move my limbs. They called 911. Our local hospital diagnosed it as a stroke, but they had never dealt with a pediatric stroke before. My dad contacted Packard Children’s. They sent an ambulance to pick us up and immediately took me into surgery to remove a clot. After surgery, I was able to move my right limbs and left leg again. I was discharged five days later and started months of rehab at another hospital.

Six months later, my condition worsened, and I was back at Packard Children’s. My care team decided to keep me at the hospital while I waited for a new heart. A month later in December, I got an early Christmas gift: a healthy heart that fit me just fine.

I Was Free (Sort of)

I only spent a few days in the hospital after my transplant. 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, I’m home and a sophomore in high school. I still receive care at Packard Children’s, but I spend my free time dancing, volunteering with children with autism, tutoring at the local library, and teaching music.

What Comes Next

As for the future, I don’t have a solid plan. I’m 16. But what I do know is that I have a future to live. I have time to make plans. Being a cardiology kid in the hospital inspired me to want a career as a pediatric cardiologist. Being a cardiology kid at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford has inspired me to make Stanford my first choice for school.

So, that’s my story in just a few paragraphs. But my story isn’t only mine. It’s yours, too. You’ve been there, behind the scenes.

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

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of the Children's Fund Update.

Photography credit: The Tran Family.

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