Like Obama, these kids say ‘Yes, we can’

Read Kathleen’s essay, “Like Obama, these kids say ‘Yes, we can.’” It was a full page feature on the Sunday Commentary page in the Chicago Sun-Times.


Like-Obama-136x300I write on behalf of a 127-year-old institution, Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, founded in 1882, 93 years after our nation’s first presidential inauguration.

I write on behalf of a hospital that has been guided by the same principles that have moved our nation — independence, dignity and democracy (no child is turned away because of an inability to pay) — and by the spirit of its citizens — children.

I write on behalf of Mark, Alex, Liam, Lissette, Yali, Stephanie, Jamarielle, Sabeeh, Jacob and Jovan, who is affectionately called the “Mayor of the Fourth Floor” for his bully pulpit speeches and rousing jokes that lighten the heart and are IV’s to the soul.

I write on behalf of Shawn, who carried the Olympic Torch as it passed through Chicago to Salt Lake City in 2002. Shawn, who underwent 78 surgeries and “ran” the torch relay in a wheelchair, brought the torch back to the hospital so that every child could touch it and know the impossible was possible.

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I write on behalf of Lazar, whose journey back to life came through the poetry of two nations, whispered to him for days after a freak accident submerged his stroller in the lake. When he closed his eyes, he knew one language. When he next opened his eyes, he could also speak the language of his caregivers.

I write on behalf of Matt, who finished law school despite a return of his cancer and a limb amputation, who climbed Mt. Shiomo in Israel on one leg, whose east-to-west grin belied all his struggles as he held his prosthesis high and waved to the world from the mountain’s summit. He believed.

I write on behalf of Mark, who was hospitalized on Christmas when he was 12, and who vowed he would return each year with toys so every child would have gifts. The first year he brought 100 toys, the next 1,000, and each year the number grew. Mark lost his battle cancer in 2006, but this year the toy drive that his family and community continue in his name brought 30,000 toys to the hospital. His spirit endures.

I write on behalf of Kendall, who at 11 years of age watched an Oprah show about AIDS orphans in Africa and knew she had to do something. Despite a chronic disease and undergoing two liver transplants, Kendall, who is now a sophomore in high school, founded a movement that recruited other kids to help children in need worldwide. The movement, “Kids Caring 4 Kids,” has raised $700,000 with a goal of $1 million. She believes.

I write on behalf of Tom, whose Make-A-Wish was for a penguin, and when gently asked to reconsider, said, “OK, if I can’t have a penguin, I want to meet the Pope.”
He traveled to Rome carrying handwritten notes and messages from fellow patients that he placed in the arms of the pontiff as both petition and blessing.

I write on behalf of Jake, 9, who fought back from paralysis to re-learn to swallow, talk and walk. This Sunday, for the second year, he will climb 80 floors of the Aon Center with his family to raise funds for the hospital that saved his life. Yes we can.

I write on behalf of Stephanie, who as a young girl sang the national anthem at White Sox Park, despite undergoing intense chemotherapy, who battled through a brain tumor, strokes and a heart attack, and who last summer traveled to Washington, D.C., as a gifted college student and as the Illinois representative of the National Association of Children’s Hospitals to petition lawmakers not to cut Medicaid funding that would impair children’s lives. Not this time.

I write on behalf of what I have learned from these amazing children, that moments powerfully lived become testimony, become tribute.

The inauguration of our 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, is one of those moments. His election is a tribute to the spirit of young and old coming together in a union that is indivisible as long as it has at its heart liberty and justice for all.