|Vol. 25, No. 4||March 1, 2003|
Pediatric Patients Make Friends from Around the World
By GAIL GOODWIN
The University of Texas
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
Listen closely to what’s going on in the pediatrics school classrooms at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and you’ll hear Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, English and even Chinese chatter.
The two classrooms are pods of cultural diversity, where pediatric patients like Steve Rael and Sebastian Vizcaino learn about reading, writing and arithmetic while getting to know friends from other countries and cultures.
“We have children of all ages from many different countries and cultures here,” says Kristin Hedrick, a teacher in the elementary school classroom. “What amazes all of us who work with them is how quickly they become a family. The big ones take care of the little ones and the little ones look up to their older friends. They are sort of a miniature United Nations with a commonality that unites them. They’re all fighting cancer and they’re also just kids trying to maintain some normalcy in their young lives.”
Sebastian, age 8, is from Guatemala and enjoys telling his new friends about his adventures there with his brother Robert. Climbing volcanoes, exploring caves and swimming in lakes and warm pools heated by thermal springs were high on their list of activities until Sebastian was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In addition to his native Spanish, Sebastian speaks English, which he learned in school in Guatemala. This language skill and his incredible smile made the transition to life in Texas and treatment for cancer easier for him. In Steve, age 12 and originally from New Mexico, he also found a new friend to lean on.
While on treatment at M.D. Anderson, Sebastian and Steve quickly became a dynamic duo. Sometimes it was Sebastian running Steve down the hospital hallways in his wheelchair. Sometimes it was Steve popping wheelies in the chair on his own. But, wherever one was, the other was never far behind.
Occasionally, however, both boys slowed down enough to do their schoolwork. As part of their school curriculum, Steve, Sebastian and all of the young cancer patients at M.D. Anderson participate in art classes with the hospital’s Children’s Art Project, a positive alternative to hospital treatment.
Steve is still receiving treatment at M.D. Anderson, but Sebastian has returned to his native Guatemala. He comes back to the cancer treatment regularly for treatment and checkups, but he has his eye on the future where his plans for range from being a policeman to a fireman to a scientist to an astronaut.
“It’s inspiring to watch these children as they undergo treatment for cancer,” says Shannan Murray, director of the Children’s Art Project. “Through M. D. Anderson, children from all over Texas, the United States and the world come together to fight their disease and get a lesson in understanding and cultural sensitivity along the way. We feel that we help that process along through the many different programs funded by the Children’s Art Project.”
©2006 Texas Medical Center