Oncology patient Adham Hamza likes to dream big, but the 9-year-old from Monterey never thought he would have the opportunity to high-five the President of the United States.
But he did.
As part of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMN) 2012 Champions Across America program, Adham, a patient at Children's Hospital Central California, was among 52 children hand-picked from across the country to travel with their families to Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Fla. During the weeklong excursion earlier this fall the group conducted media interviews, met with their state representatives, rubbed shoulders with celebrities and visited Walt Disney World Resort.
The CMN program highlights the importance of children’s hospitals by honoring amazing kids like Adham who face extraordinary medical challenges with courage. Delta Air Lines presented this year’s event along with co-sponsors Ace Hardware and Chico’s FAS. In Washington, D.C., the champions selected from each state visited well-known attractions including Capitol Hill, Arlington National Cemetery, National Air and Space Museum, National Mall – and, of course, the White House.
“It was a lot of fun meeting President Barack Obama!” said Adham of the 30-minute encounter with the nation’s leader. “The first thing he did was high-five everyone when he walked into the room!” The opportunity to take photos with Bo, the First Family’s Portuguese water dog, was also a special treat.
“The president really seemed to care and wanted to be there with us – he was very engaged and passionate,” said Areeje Hamza, Adham’s mom who attended along with her husband Dr. Samer Hamza, a dentist, and their other son Timmy, age 4.
At one point during the tour, Adham decided to rest in what turned out to be more than just a nice-looking chair. “It was neat how they (tour guides) would just walk up and start talking to you,” said Areeje, a teacher. “A man said to Adham, ‘You know, that chair is 200 years old’ and told him more about how it came from England. I was surprised they let us sit on the furniture!”
Next the champions traveled to Walt Disney World, where they attended the annual Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ Celebration 2012 Medal Ceremony that recognizes each champion’s determination to overcome obstacles. The champions were treated like celebrities themselves as they celebrated with “America’s Got Talent” host Nick Cannon who led the ceremony, and pop star Jordin Sparks who performed for an excited crowd.
In fact, the group experienced the red-carpet treatment at every turn. From large, friendly welcoming committees that greeted them, to firefighters who created a rainbow effect by spraying water on the group’s airplane before taking off from Washington, D.C., and after landing in Florida, “The kids were made to feel very special,” said Areeje. This year’s Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler Kenosha from Wisconsin, even accompanied the group the entire trip.
“It was great to meet other kids and so many people,” said Adham.
No dream is too big
It’s easy to understand why CMN selected Adham to represent California. Known for his upbeat personality, Adham hasn’t let persistent brain cancer suppress his insatiable appetite for life. His dream is to run an international restaurant on a cruise ship some day where he wants to feed people for free. The young boy is also learning Arabic, Spanish and French. At Walt Disney World Resort, two master chefs – including one who works on a cruise ship – learned of Adham’s ambition and met with him. “Adham was so thrilled!” said Areeje.
Pediatric oncologists at the Children’s Hospital Central California Craycroft Cancer Center are doing everything possible to help Adham reach his dream – and more. A benign tumor the size of a small plum has nestled in the middle of Adham’s head since he was a baby. Despite multiple chemotherapy combinations over the years, the tumor had progressed. The mass eventually became more stable but Adham underwent major surgery earlier this year to remove part of the tumor and continues to receive chemotherapy treatments. Dr. David Samuel, Children’s pediatric neuro-oncologist specially trained in treating children with brain cancers who oversees Adham’s care, gave him the green light to attend CMN’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Adham didn’t want to miss it,” said Areeje.
Brain and nervous system cancers are the second most common cancers in children, making up about 25 percent of pediatric cancers. Gliomas are the most prevalent brain tumors. Adham was diagnosed with the most common childhood brain tumor (astrocytoma), which can occur in most parts of the brain and occasionally the spinal cord.
Craycroft is one of the leading pediatric cancer centers on the West Coast and the only provider of pediatric oncology services in the Central Valley. As a member of Children’s Oncology Group (COG), Craycroft has access to the latest studies and treatment plans. COG is the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research.
Dr. Samuel also coordinates Adham’s care with other pediatric specialists as needed, including those in pediatric endocrinology, pediatric neurosurgery, ophthalmology and imaging. Despite some complications, Adham does well in school and enjoys being active.
“This trip meant a lot,” said Areeje. “All of these champions and families – like so many who have a critically ill child – have been through so much. This gave them a chance to take a break, have some fun and create new memories without having to worry about planning anything. It was nice to know how many people truly cared and understand.”
For Adham, the trip in which he personally met the President of the United States also served as yet another reminder that “no dream is too big.”