I’m a mom.
When my four-year-old plays tag with his 15-month-old “baby sister,” when they look at each other and giggle, as if conspiring their next big prank against mamma; or when one indulgently feeds fish crackers to the other, the previous sleepless night for umpteen feedings is easily forgotten.
But my patience often wears thin. When both want to play with the same toy, but not with each other; when they look at each other with a look of “why did mom have to have you, too,” or when the little one wants only what the big brother is eating and neither is willing to give in. Cue tantrum and the end of my patience.
Still, nothing comes close to the nightmarish battle so many parents face when their precious baby is diagnosed with cancer, failing kidneys, a life-threatening heart defector some other medical crisis.
So when I recently visited the Banner Children’s Hospital School at Cardon Children’s Medical Center, I had much trepidation. I imagined doom and gloom and a serious academic environment — children with long faces — their heads buried in books.
But Alex Gallardo walked right up to me and smiled the biggest smile I’ve seen since my mom held her first grandchild. Boom. This five-year-old with infectious energy has cancer, but other than a bald head and some bluish marks on his legs from the pokes he gets on a regular basis, you would be hard-pressed to tell.
Virginia Trimble, the teacher at the Hospital School, where young patients can keep up with their studies while they miss out on regular school, can’t help but beam when she talks about Alex.
He’s so interactive and has such excitement for coming to class; we just share a great bond,” she says, her voice full of pride and love.
The Hospital School helps children like Alex with reading, math and, perhaps most importantly, a key reminder of normalcy beyond the hospital bed, which for many, becomes a second home.
Some come to class for a few sessions until they get well enough to go back to regular school. Others like Alex are being prepared for homebound kindergarten.
The school, funded entirely from donations, is open to all young patients from toddlers to teens. With a small but dedicated staff of two teachers and several volunteers, the cheery-looking classroom full of crayons, puzzles and a bright yellow school bus-shaped bookshelf, feels like a retreat for hungry learners.
Look out for an upcoming story in our next issue of Innovative Care magazine with more about Alex and the wonderful staff and their mission at the Hospital School.
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