Omar’s Dream Keeps Kids Connected

Nate Dennis-Benford
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When 19-year-old Nate Dennis-Benford gears up to run the 5th annual Omar’s Dream Foundation 10K Run on October 15, he’ll be living proof that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Diagnosed with leukemia in 2015, Nate is a patient at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, where he is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment with a daily oral medication and monthly intravenous doses at the Bass Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases.

“When I was diagnosed with leukemia, I was devastated that I could no longer play on my high school water polo team because it could damage my port [a small disc placed under the skin that is used for intravenous administration of chemotherapy medicines],” Nate said. “I took pride in being in shape, and after I got sick, it was important for me to still be physically active in some way. I found running, and I’ve been an avid runner ever since. Even if I’m feeling sick, I’ll just do something less strenuous, but I try not to take off any days.”

Nate’s tenacity is reminiscent of Omar Hassan, for whom the Omar’s Dream Foundation is named. Diagnosed with leukemia at age 2, Omar spent his childhood in and out of the hospital. When he was in fourth grade, Omar underwent a bone marrow transplant at Packard Children’s, and he was required to remain in the hospital on isolation while he recovered. In order to stay connected to his teachers and classmates, he began joining his class remotely via videoconference. Sadly, Omar lost his battle with leukemia in 2012, but his dream of connecting patients in the hospital with their peers outside lives on. The Omar’s Dream Foundation donates computers and other electronics to patients in the hospital to help them keep up with schoolwork and classmates.

Nate is one of many patients who is benefitting from Omar’s Dream. He is currently in his fourth semester at Cabrillo College, where he is majoring in psychology and pursuing pre-med courses, with the goal of eventually attending a paramedic training program — an interest he attributes wholeheartedly to his time in the hospital.

When Nate was hospitalized for pneumonia last year (while also undergoing chemotherapy), he had a hard time keeping up with his classes. “Even when you’re not there, the classes keep on moving,” Nate said. “I remember studying for an anatomy test while I was in the hospital and struggling with all the papers I was trying to read as I lay in bed.” It was then that Pam Simon, director of the Stanford Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer (SAYAC) Program, which works to serve the unique needs of cancer patients ages 15 to 29, connected him with the Omar’s Dream Foundation to provide him with an iPad to help consolidate his textbooks and make studying easier. “After I got the iPad, I got an ‘A’ on that anatomy test, which was awesome,” Nate remembered.

Beyond helping patients keep up with their studies, the technologies provided by the Omar’s Dream Foundation enable patients like Nate to remain connected with friends at school.

“It’s really important to stay connected with your classmates because it’s hard if you just disappear for a month, or 3 months, or a year. You come back and there’s a lot of questions like ‘Where were you?,’ ‘How have you been?,’ ‘What was it like?,” Nate said. “But if you’re staying in touch with people while you’re going through treatment, if you’re Facetiming, when you go back, it makes the transition a lot easier. It feels like you never really left.”

“That’s what the Omar’s Dream Foundation is all about — keeping patients connected as students to help normalize their time in the hospital as much as possible,” said Simon. “Seeing patients like Nate give back to the organization by participating in the run this year — even while going through treatment — is remarkable.”

The Omar’s Dream Run will be held on Sunday, October 15, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Hellyer Park in San Jose. The event will raise funds to further the mission of the Omar’s Dream Foundation.

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


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