Dreams can come true for local teen

Susan Durham is seated on left, and Angela Durham is seated on right, surrounded by members of the UF Panhellenic Council.

Special to The Sun
Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 31, 2008 at 11:32 p.m.

For one Gainesville teen, any day spent outside the walls of Shands at the University of Florida would be extraordinary, and a trip to the Rocky Mountains is a dream.

Angela Durham, 18, will take a vacation with her family to Colorado Springs in July with the help of the UF Panhellenic Council and Dreams Come True, a Jacksonvillle nonprofit organization that fulfills the dreams of terminally ill children.

Angela was born with Down syndrome and was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July 2006. Treatment for leukemia has caused her to lose her ability to walk, so Angela uses a wheelchair.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a cancer that affects white blood cells and is most common in children. However, over the past 10 years, advances in technology have increased the curability rate in young people to about 80 percent, according to Pam Snyder, the leukemia program coordinator for the UF Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

"It's no longer about remission but truly curing people," Snyder said.

Angela runs the risk of becoming sick by exposure to germs whenever she leaves the house, said her mom, Susan Durham. Along with weekly visits to Shands, Angela attends physical and occupational therapy three times a week to practice walking. Angela also receives chemotherapy treatment every night, administered by her mom.

"At one point, we didn't know from one day to another if she would make it," she said. Angela's frequency of becoming ill has landed her in the emergency room several times since her diagnosis. Once, doctors were forced to put her brain and body to sleep in order to fight off infection.

"We have had the best nurses and doctors," Susan Durham said. "Thank God for Shands."

Over the past two years, the UF Panhellenic Council has donated about $7,800 to Dreams Come True by hosting its annual New Member Lip Sync, a dance competition among the new member classes of each Panhellenic chapter. Last fall, the council raised $3,500 toward sponsoring Angela's dream, according to Jessica Layne, president of the council.

The council held a party on Feb. 13 to celebrate the Durhams' strength during difficult times and their upcoming trip. The Panhellenic officers and representatives from its 16 chapters attended.

"I think it's wonderful that they are doing something truly great to help someone in their community," said Jessica Blinn, director of program development for Dreams Come True.

The foundation works closely with physicians and social workers, who refer patients to the program. "Dreamers" must either live or be treated in Northeast Florida or at UF Shands. They must be between the ages of 2 and 18 and, have a life-threatening illness, and their physicians must confirm it is safe to travel, Blinn said.

The average dream costs approximately $4,500, but usually accommodations such as hotel rooms and vacation activities also are also donated. Blinn said no child is ever placed on a waiting list or turned away.

"If we have many kids qualified, we will make it happen," Blinn said.

Angela wished to visit family and to see the mountains in Colorado Springs. She expressed her gratitude with two simple words.

"I'm happy," she said at her party.

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