Christal Hays, of Anchorage, Alaska, is only 18 years old, but she is wise beyond her years. A former patient of Seattle Children’s Hospital, Hays has been through a lot in her life. Diagnosed with genetic nephrotic syndrome and heart disease at only 8 months old, she had a kidney transplant and underwent open heart surgery at Seattle Children’s and grew up traveling to and from Seattle for treatment. For Hays, her untraditional childhood was normal. And from this experience, she has a message for others, “You are more than your disease.”
It’s a message that is now inspiring others on a national level thanks to an essay she decided to share with the world.
An award winning essay
Hays recently won third place in a national essay contest for teen survivors of catastrophic illness, the 12th annual Andre Sobel Award. The topic for this year’s entrants was “The letter I wished a friend or relative had sent me when I was sick,” in which Hays encourages others to look beyond their disease.
“It was something I really enjoyed writing,” said Hays. “It let me sit down and think about what I would have wanted someone to say to me. I can imagine how difficult it would be for someone to be diagnosed later in life. For me, it was just normal. I wanted to share my experience with others in hopes that it would inspire them.”
Using her experience to inspire
Today, Hays is thriving and wants others to know they are strong as well. Using her own experience as inspiration, she eloquently explains both the unpleasant realities of living with disease and the power she was able to find within herself in spite of it.
“Take a moment and close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Let the beat of the hospital wing fade away and focus for a minute on your own mind. How do you feel? Where would you rather be at this very moment other than where you are? If you’re old enough to be reading this, I assume you’re old enough to have a pretty good idea about what is happening to your life and your body. Your mind might be in utter turmoil as the rush of doctors and nurses filter around you and the slow of information and change dominate your life and reshapes how you perceive yourself. Let me tell you something: you are NOT a disease: that is one thing that I wish more people told me when I was younger, and that is one thing that I try to tell everyone else I encounter with the same challenge. You are a human being with dreams, aspirations, and needs like everyone else. How your body treats you shouldn’t be a limiting factor in how you live your life.”
Encouraging her younger sister
Hays’ encouraging words to others hits all too close to home. She’s so wonderful at imparting encouragement and strength, because she’s been there for her youngest sister, Amanda Hays, ever since she was diagnosed with a similar condition at birth. Together, they share a similar story. At age 4, her sister received a kidney transplant at Seattle Children’s. Since then, they’ve been supporting each other through treatment, medication regimens and blood draws.
Just as Hays would explain to her sister, she wanted others to know they are more than just their diagnosis. They are a person.
“When in a hospital or medical situation, it is very easy to think that this is where the world begins and ends. You know what I mean; hospital time, the slow ticking time
bomb of nowhere to go and somewhere else to be. I want you to know something: the hospital is only one little part of the whole world. Some place in the world someone is falling in love, falling out of love, saving a life, choosing a new path, driving too fast, watching an inspiring movie, or simply breathing. Don’t let the past dictate who you can become.”
However, more than anything, Hays wanted to help others remember how strong they are.
“The moral lesson, end-all-be-all, of the story is that you are strong. How can I ever convince you of that? You are strong and have power, no matter how small and insignificant you might feel; you actually do have the power to change the world. One thing that I think about is what I want to leave behind when I die. I was thinking about something that can last forever, but there doesn’t seem to be such a thing. So I will settle with this; my legacy that I leave to you is kindness, compassion, empathy, and persistence. In the wise words of Mr. Willy Wonka, ‘Anything you want to do, do it; want to change the world? There’s nothing to it.’ If you put your mind to change something, spread your story to everyone you know, and practice what you preach, the human population can leave a legacy like never seen before.”
Her letter ends with a few final words of encouragement.
“You are stronger than you think and you are more important to the world than you will ever know.”
Three simple words hang from the last line. A plea from someone who’s been through a similar struggle:
“Keep on fighting.”
- Seattle Children’s Transplant Center
- Seattle Children’s Heart Center
- Poets help patients find their voices
To read Hays’ award winning essay in its entirety, please click the link provided: http://andreriveroflife.org/2014/04/14/congratulations-to-christal-hays-third-place-winner/