Back to school can be difficult for children being treated in hospital. A Bay Area foundation tries to make it easier through the power of connection.
It’s not something you often hear from a high school student, but 11-year-old Alex Jones wants to go back to school.
In May, Alex visited Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford with symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath. He was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, Alex has been unable to go to school because he has been in and out of the hospital for treatments.
“I miss my friends,” he said.
But in August, one day during his appointment at the Bass Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases, Alex received a special delivery: an iPad.
“I’m so excited because I can now video chat with my friends,” he said. “It’s the first thing I’m going to do.”
Omar’s Dream Foundation delivered the device to the hospital. Since 2013, the organization has been donating computers and other electronics to hospitalized or medically supervised children so they don’t miss their classes.
“They use it for homework and connection,” says Gary Dahl, MD, a professor emeritus of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine and a pediatric oncologist at Packard Children’s for 32 years until his retirement this year. “They use it to connect with friends and family. Alex just told us he stopped at the bus stop recently to see one of his friends. His friend smiled, big smile. And she asked, “When are you coming back to school?” He said November, and then her smile disappeared. So making this way to connect with people makes a difference. We have seen it bring about positive change during their hospital stay.”
dr. Dahl took care of Omar Hassan, who was the inspiration for the program. Omar was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2 and spent seven years in and out of Packard Children’s for treatment. Unable to be in a classroom all the time, he took the school to his hospital room. Sadly, Omar lost his battle with cancer in 2012, but his dream of connecting patients has continued for the past 10 years.
“It was pre-pandemic and he already knew this was important,” said Pam Simon, director of the Stanford Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program. “It doesn’t matter if the patient is 2 or 25 years old. People need to connect, and that’s often difficult during cancer treatment.”
The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford School Program also offers a fully accredited academic curriculum for school-age students taught by Palo Alto Unified School District teachers to bridge that homework gap. While the Hospital School program is important in keeping children’s studies on track, it doesn’t necessarily keep students connected to their friends and classmates at home, which is where the tablets help. So while getting a tablet may seem like a small gesture, it means the world to patients like Alex.
Omar’s Dream Foundation Celebrates 10 Years of Helping Kids Stay Connected Omar’s Dream Run on October 16.