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Hope means
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placeholder January 19, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
Catholic Schools Week

Anaiss Arreola participates in the St. Bede Jog-a-Thon, the first time she had attempted to walk in front of so many people. Schoolmates cheer her effort.
Courtesy photo

Hope means doing extraordinary things
for this St. Bede pupil

God provides us with so many living examples of hope in our world. The gift of Catholic education provides us with opportunities to witness hope amongst the students and families we serve. This year at St. Bede School in Hayward we welcomed a special sixth-grade student, Anaiss Arreola, who is an inspirational sign of hope.

On May 30, 2011, when Anaiss was 7 years old, she was involved in a serious car accident. She was flown by helicopter to Children's Hospital in Oakland. Her body was so severely injured that she was in intensive care for two weeks. Her 1-year-old sister, Nadia, was also admitted to Children's Hospital. Anaiss told her mom that an angel spoke to her to let Anaiss know that her sister had died. Before her mom could share this devastating news with her daughter, Anaiss sadly said, "I already know."

While at the hospital, they received more tragic news. Anaiss was paralyzed from the waist down. For the next four years, Anaiss was homeschooled by her mom so she could undergo intense physical therapy. Her parents paid a monthly bill of $2,000 for several years because this treatment was not covered by any medical insurance.

Regardless of this steep expense, her parents held on to the hope that Anaiss could walk again. They searched for a swim club she could join. No one would take her except the American Swim Academy. The director saw the possibility of trying anything with Anaiss to support her rehabilitation. For the past two years, she has grown accustomed to the routine of using her elbows to enter into the pool and swim for two half-hour sessions once a week. Although the cost of therapy and swim classes has been a financial burden on her family, Anaiss has slowly begun to feel a strong tingling sensation and has movement from her knees up to her waist.

After four years of being homeschooled, Anaiss had the desire to return to a traditional school. Her parents were anxious to send her in fear of her physical safety and how the other children would treat Anaiss. Her aunt had two children attending St. Bede so she encouraged that Anaiss enroll in the school, the alma mater of her mother.

Before the school year began, Anaiss and her mom were invited to tour St. Bede School with another sixth-grade student and her parent. The pastor, Father Seamus Farrell, and the plant and maintenance supervisor, Linda Montoya, ensured the renovation of the girls' bathroom to include a ramp and automatic doors to accommodate Anaiss' physical needs.

Anaiss is a student who is filled with such perseverance and determination. In preparation for the school's Jog-a-Thon, she was dared by a family friend to walk during the event. Anaiss practiced walking in physical therapy and around her neighborhood. She had never walked at the school or with so many people around.

Looking back Anaiss shared, "I was a bit scared about what people would think and say while I was walking. I was nervous that people would make fun of me or tease me about what I needed to use or how I walked." Then she mentioned, "I thought about it and I didn't care about what people thought. I was just going to do it."

On the day of the Jog-a-Thon, her mom and dad came to school with leg braces and crutches in their hands. As the children ran laps around the softball field, Anaiss smiled and cheered them on. With music playing the background and students scattered throughout the field, Anaiss was preparing herself to accomplish her goal. With braces tightly wrapped around her legs and crutches in hand, she pushed herself off her wheelchair and began to take her first steps.

"I was excited and surprised at the same time because I didn't realize that they were cheering me on and that they were encouraging me," she recalled. "I was excited because it felt good to be treated like I wasn't different even though I was. I was so happy because I accomplish my goal that I had in therapy to walk a lap at the Jog-a-Thon."

Anaiss believes in all possibilities. Regardless of her disabilities, she swam with sharks in Jamaica, rode an elephant and petted a tiger in Thailand, and visited the Empire State Building in New York City. This summer she is traveling to Mexico, where she will learn to walk again using a specialized treadmill. In two years, Anaiss plans to swim to Alcatraz to raise money for the medical supplies she needs and her ongoing therapy.

When Anaiss was asked what hope means, she shared with confidence, "Hope means if you want something you do it no matter how big the risk is." She added, "Maybe this story will bring more kids with disabilities to St. Bede and let them have more hope that anything can happen. As my mom says, 'I don't do ordinary things. I do extraordinary things.'"

(Jocelyn Pierre-Antoine is principal of St. Bede School in Hayward. For more information, visit http://mystbede.org or dial 510-782-3444.)

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