Name: Julia Blankenbaker
From: Wesley Chapel , Florida
School: Wiregrass Ranch High School
Sometimes the pivotal moments in life come at completely unexpected times. When I began volunteering at All Children’s Hospital, I never imagined I would procure a vision for my future and a better understanding of how resilient people can be. Though I helped therapists and patients by cleaning and filing for nearly 20 hours per week in the summers , what I received in return was far greater.
While I met many people by shadowing the therapists, the most unforgettable encounter I had was with a kid named Sam. Sam’s story resonated deeply within me: we were both diligent students, dedicated athletes, and the same age. One day Sam collapsed at soccer practice due to a seizure. Doctors determined that Sam’s brain was swelling at an alarming rate and had to perform a craniotomy. Luckily, Sam recovered from the procedure quickly and was discharged to outpatient, where I assisted therapists in his recovery. I witnessed the miracle of his recovery throughout the summer.
What was undoubtedly the most inspiring part of observing Sam’s recovery was how he persevered despite many unknowns. Sam often left therapy frustrated for not being able to perform tasks that used to come easily. However, his attitude of optimism and determination in each session enabled him to regain his cognitive and motor capabilities.
Lightning, in this case, struck twice when Sam’s brain started swelling again on Christmas Eve. This time Sam’s prognosis was much worse. A vein at the top of his brain was almost completely blocked. He slipped into a coma, and instantly, all of his hard work from the summer vanished. After weeks in a coma, a miracle happened: a change in medication and diet allowed Sam to wake up. I can only imagine what it felt like when Sam had to learn to care for himself independently after struggling through this process less than a year prior. Rather than giving into despair, Sam faced his recovery with more grit than he had the first time. Most remarkably, Sam fought his way back to make a nearly full recovery and walk at graduation.
Sam’s tenacity has inspired me on many occasions. When I was young, I lost my sister due to a heart defect. I vividly remember holding her in my arms before her surgery. Sometimes, I find myself wondering how my life would have been if this hadn’t happened. It helps to know there are people like Sam who do experience miracles. Though the struggles I face are different than what Sam has endured, facing life with the attitude that he had in his recovery helps me deal with the void left by my sister. Sam has inspired me to help others and pursue a career in neuroscience.
In a way, everyone can learn from Sam when facing obstacles in life. If Sam was able to get through a traumatic brain injury, not once but twice, people can get through any number of devastations. When embarking upon my volunteer experience, I never expected to gain such a valuable lesson, and through serving others, I hope to show that with determination and optimism they can get through anything.