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This I Believe: A Koala Bear

Lauren Ross in the studio
NPR Illinois
Lauren Ross - Rochester High School

I barely remember yet I remember so vividly, I was on 5 years old. Excited about approaching kindergarten: I couldn't wait to ride the bus, go to the cafeteria, play on the playground and make new friends. I was an unstoppable bundle of energy waiting for my first day of school. Sleep the night before the before the class listing was posted on the school door was impossible. I had shopped for all my supplies and they were ready to occupy my desk on the very first day. However, my life changed drastically and sadly I never arrived on the first official first day of school.

A routine school physical is required in order to attend kindergarten. My school physical was the beginning of a long journey. After a series of tests, I learned that I had a congenital heart defect. I was facing open heart surgery. My surgery would take place at the St. Louis Children's Hospital. It would take me away from my hometown, but more importantly away from my first day of kindergarten. Even though I was so young, I was still worried. I was a carefree five year old, but I could sense the fear in my parents no matter how hard they tried to hide it.

Arriving in St. Louis with my family, I realized how many sick children there were in this country when I saw the other children who occupied the beds in the hospital. I was relieved that my heart surgery was a hopeful situation. Many children's conditions were grave and provided little or no hope. I felt prepared to face surgery after doctors explained what was happening.

Ready for my surgery, they whisked me away to the operating room. I was told that it was the longest time frame of my family's life, waiting for a report from the doctor or nurse who could verify the outcome of the procedure. After several hours the report came that the hole in my heart was successfully closed and I could be monitored in the intensive care unit. The outcome was favorable. My Family came to visit me in the ICU. One thing that stood out as I groggily awoke and my family entered the facility, a koala bear, grey and white with a brown nose, soft and fluffy was waiting to be held as soon as I was able. I was lucky to have this wonderful bear to keep me company. Toys were not allowed in the ICU, but somewhere this bear appeared. My family could only stay for short period of time, but it seemed alright since I have this new friend at the end of my bed. I cherish that bear to this day.

I recovered fully from my open heart surgery and returned home two weeks later, still anticipating my first day of kindergarten. Though delayed a little, it was a wonderful as I imagined. I had the best teacher and my friends were by my side when I entered the classroom. The little koala bear was on my bed waiting for me when I returned home from the first day. I later learned that he was a gift from the heart bypass manufactures. Every child that is placed on heart bypass is given this special gift. Not only was I given the gift of life, the gift of good fortune, the gift of a wonderful future, but also the gift of a special friend that still occupies the foot of my bed to this day. I believe strength comes from friendship which in my situation took the shape of a koala bear.

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This I Believe Illinois is an essay program for high school seniors to share their perspectives as they prepare to enter adulthood.  Each year, a panel selcts ten submitted essays to be recorded by their authors for broadcast on NPR Illinois.  Since 2007, the selected authors also deliver their essays at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise where the students receive scholarships from the organization.

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