Sophie gets a new heart and perspective on life after 40 days and 40 nights

SophieSCHThe holiday season is a time where family and friends come together and often reflect on what they are most thankful for. It’s a time of celebration and joy, and for some, it’s also a time to give back.

For 17-year-old Sophie Kuniholm, this time of the year is a combination of all those things. She’s thankful for her health, the support of her family and the ability to give back to others. But most importantly, she’s thankful for her heart, both literally and metaphorically.

When Sophie was only 9 years old she unexpectedly fell ill. What her family thought was just a stomach bug turned out to be something much more serious. On Dec. 6, 2005, her heart began to fail and she was immediately put on the transplant list. About one month later, on Jan. 14, 2006, the day before her tenth birthday, she received a new heart at Seattle Children’s Hospital. After 40 days and 40 nights at Children’s, Sophie was sent home, her life changed forever – a new heart and a new perspective on life.

Today, eight years later, Sophie is a healthy, happy and truly inspirational young woman with a very bright future. Here, Sophie shares her own perspective on how her experience has influenced her.

Sophie explains: The importance of perspective during the holidays

This time of the year we take a moment from our busy lives to sit down with family, friends and loved ones to reflect and give thanks for what makes our lives wonderful, even through the daily struggles we face. And soon, this inner reflection and thanks will shift into an outward expression of appreciation as the holiday and gift giving season fast approaches.

What I wonder is, how in all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, when people are frantically searching for gifts and preparing for their own celebrations, do our feelings of love and thanks seem to get lost? After all, we have an entire holiday dedicated solely to appreciation, giving thanks and spending quality time with the family.

Most years I find myself being thankful for things like passing all of my classes, my phone, Netflix subscription and the fact that I will soon be able to drive – things that are luxuries that I have found are a part of my every day life.


But this year, when a bout of honest absentmindedness landed me in the hospital, I was reminded what the true meaning of feeling thankful was. I was happy to be sitting at the table with my family, and that for the first time in two weeks, I had an appetite and an empty stomach that I was ready to fill.

I was thankful to have the opportunity to be sick, because being sick means that I am still alive. No one really wants to be sick, but I certainly have the most amazing place, Seattle Children’s, there to take care of me when I do. The amazing staff took care of me and had me home before I even knew it.

It’s hard to remember a time before I was sick. Even as a child, I understood how fragile life could be. Although I do not maintain a “sick person” mentality, I know more than most how easily life can be taken away. When your own life hangs in the balance, suddenly finding the “must have” holiday gift at a decent price and trying to plan the perfect holiday party, just doesn’t seem so important anymore. Even I, with my extensive medical problems, can lose sight of what’s important and get lost in the trivial things. But my recent trip to Children’s has helped me regain my perspective.

Perspective. That’s all it takes. A moment to step back, breathe, and realize there are so many things that are more worth your time and energy. Focus on cherishing the things in your life that are most important to you, that really matter, like your friends, family, happiness and health. After all, that’s what the holidays are really all about.

Sophie gives back to other patients each year

When looking at a charitable act from the outside, it’s oftentimes difficult to see the real impact it has. Even when I’m collecting donations for Children’s, it can be difficult to visualize how it will help a child. I mean, how much difference can a toy really make, right?

SophieWithWagonBut every year I collect toys in hopes I can make a difference. And every year upon my arrival at Children’s, with a red wagon busting at the seams full of toys and stuffed animals, I very rarely make it to the donation room before being swarmed by curious children investigating my holiday treasures. This year, I noticed only one small face investigating from afar.

A young girl, who was about 6 years old, ran up to me clad in her holiday pajamas with a curious look on her face. Without a word she started to excitedly rummage through the stuffed toys. I smiled and told her she was welcome to pick whatever she desired. She quickly found a dog she seemed to like, smiled back at me, uttered a shy and barely audible “thank you” and then hurried back off to stand with her mom. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for me, but it wasn’t until she ran back up to me that I took more notice of her.

With the new stuffed dog under her arm, she tugged on the corner of my shirt to get my full and undivided attention. I smiled and got down onto my knees in order to better talk with her. She again thanked me for the toy dog. She told me all about how she lived in Alaska and had to travel all the way to Seattle to come to Children’s (I often forget how lucky we are in Seattle to be so close to such an amazing hospital). Apparently this young girl had lost her stuffed animal just before leaving Alaska and has missed it greatly. She again thanked me, told me how much easier her stay would be now that she had a new friend, and finally ran off again to be with her mom. By offering this donation of a stuffed dog, I had managed to change the outlook of a young girl and make her stay at the hospital just a little brighter. And with the other items I donated, have the potential to impact even more children.

That, to me, is the magic of giving. And now I truly know how much of a difference one toy can make.