Inspired by one boy’s vision – youth patients stay engaged in their classrooms back home even from the hospital

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Thanks to a collaboration with the Omar’s Dream Foundation, youth patients at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford don’t have to sacrifice their education while they undergo treatment 

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford has a hospital school operated by the Palo Alto Unified School District. It serves our patients and families not just through a traditional classroom setting, but also by dedicated teachers bringing school to the bedside when a child is too sick to leave their room.

But these aren’t the only ways a child to be on top of their schoolwork when hospitalized.

The Omar’s Dream Foundation offers an innovative way for sick kids to stay in touch not just with their education and studies, but also with teachers and peers from their school back home. How? Omar’s Dream makes this possible through providing electronics to allow kids to connect remotely, and virtually, with their classrooms.

“Every day I see patients who need this resource,” said Gary Dahl, MD, pediatric hematologist and oncologist. “When a child is sick in the hospital, it’s imperative to keep in touch with your life outside, and taking part in education is a major part of that.”

Ashley Noblin, 20, moved with her family from Bakersfield to the Bay Area a few years ago to be close to the hospital, where she is treated for sickle cell anemia and lupus. She undergoes dialysis three times a week for three-hour sessions, as well as other appointments with rheumatology, hematology and nephrology care teams. So, it’s not a huge surprise that she has been inspired to consider a career as a dialysis nurse.

“I’ve spent my whole life in health care, so it makes sense for me to study it,” Ashley said.

That studying was driven by her graduation through the hospital school. She utilized an iPad given to her through Omar’s Dream Foundation to accomplish much of her senior project. When she begins college courses, she’ll use the resources to stay connected in the classroom when she is in treatment.

“This is a wonderful program,” expressed Ashley, “I know that when I’ve been sick in the hospital, I wished I could be in school, and I know a lot of patients wish the same. This can really help a lot of kids.”

“It’s about even more than giving these patients an iPad. That’s the easy part,” said Pam Simon, director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer program at Stanford, which works to serve the unique needs of cancer patients ages 15-29. “What makes the difference with this program is having the person-to-person organization between the schools, the hospital and the patient and their families. Each party has to be equally dedicated to making this possible for the patient, and that’s what Omar’s Dream has facilitated. It’s a collaboration to do what’s best for the patient and student.”

Daniel Cohn, 18, is a freshman at Stanford this year and also sees great benefit in the program.

“My professors are great in helping me stay connected in class through Omar’s Dream when I can’t be there,” he said. Cohn is undergoing chemotherapy for sarcoma, which he was diagnosed with in 2012. He comes to the Bass Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases every three weeks for five days of treatment. He’s got no plans to let illness slow him down – he’s also keeping busy on the surf team.

“For young people battling illness in a hospital, it takes a toll on more than just their physical and emotional wellbeing,” said Jamila Hassan, founder and president of Omar’s Dream. “Being removed from their school environment and friends can be socially distressing. Through this program, we are working to lessen that sense of absence from ‘normal’ life.”

The inspiration for this program was Hassan’s leukemia-stricken son, Omar, who at just 9 years old made it clear to his family and his care team that being in school and keeping up with classmates was a priority. His insistence prompted his parents to work with his school to set up a system, using a laptop and webcam, where Omar could attend classes. Even hospitalized, Omar worked diligently to complete his coursework on schedule. He inspired everyone who came in contact with him with his positivity and dedication to staying connected to his community. He even insisted on getting dressed “for school” when attending from his hospital room.

Omar lost his battle on April 7, 2012. Omar’s family, through the Foundation, is ensuring that Omar’s legacy will live on to serve other patients in all stages of their education, and to stay connected. When their time in the hospital is through, they can rejoin their education without feeling like they’ve missed out or have been left behind – all thanks to one young man’s vision.

About Omar’s Dream Foundation: Omar’s Dream Foundation enables hospitalized and medically-supervised children to remotely attend school allowing them to stay connected to their teachers and classmates. Omar’s Dream Program is funded by Omar’s Dream Foundation and is free to qualified students and their educators.

Discover more about our Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Program or call (650) 498-9404.

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