Bringing School to the Bedside

Back-to-school season can be difficult for kids who are getting treatment in the hospital. A Bay Area foundation tries to make it easier through the power of connection.

It’s not something you often hear from a middle schooler, but 11-year-old Alex Jones wants to go back to school.

Back 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 hasn’t been able to go to school, as he’s been in and out of the hospital for treatments.

“I miss my friends,” he said.

However, in August, Alex had a special delivery one day during his appointment at the Bass Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases—an iPad.

“I’m so excited because I get to video chat with my friends now,” he said. “It’s the first thing I’m going to do.”

Omar’s Dream Foundation dropped off the device at the hospital. Since 2013, the organization has been donating computers and other electronics to local hospitalized or medically supervised children so they don’t have to miss their classes.

“They use it for homework and connection,” said Gary Dahl, MD, 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 to friends and family. Alex just told us he stopped at the bus stop to see one of his friends the other day. His friend smiled, big smile. And she asked, ‘When are you coming back to school?’ He said November, and then her smile went away. So having this way to connect with people makes a difference. We’ve seen it make a positive change during their stay at the hospital.”

Dr. Dahl cared for Omar Hassan, who was the inspiration for the program. Diagnosed with leukemia at age 2, Omar spent seven years in and out of Packard Children’s for treatment. Because he couldn’t always be in a classroom, he brought 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 years old or 25. People need to connect, and it’s often hard to do that 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. Even though the Hospital School program is important in keeping kids’ academics on track, it doesn’t necessarily keep students connected to their friends and classmates at home, and that’s where the tablets help. So, while getting a tablet may seem like a small gesture, it means the world to patients like Alex.

From left to right: Jamila Hassan, Pam Simon, Alex Jones, and Gary Dahl, MD.

Omar’s Dream Foundation is celebrating 10 years of helping children stay connected with Omar’s Dream Run on October 16.


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