Stephanie’s Story

By Stephanie Paseornek

When I was a child, I used to sit in my room and write for hours. In my notebook, I was anywhere and everywhere. Soaring above my eight-year-old body, I found a place for myself – a place amongst words. Writing gave me wings. It made me feel free.

When I was sixteen years old, I unexpectedly went through severe heart failure. After waking up from a month-long induced coma, my UCLA doctors told me that in order to survive, I would need a heart transplant. I was stuck in a room with four blinding white walls, tethered to machines on full life support. In the process of suffering, with death just around the bend, I made the conscious choice to continue. I asked my parents if there was any way I could write. I knew in order to find strength I needed the tools to soar above my sixteen year old body, and I needed words to set me free.

My time spent in the hospital was a time spent between life and death. All of my organs failed and my parents were told to “prepare for the worst” every day for months. During this time, my brain drifted to a place far away from MattelChildren’s Hospital. I went to my stories. When we no longer have our bodies, we are forced to fight on with our minds. We are forced to believe that there is a purpose to the suffering, and forced to believe our pens will never run out of ink. I stayed in my stories, stayed in a place where each page held a new possibility, a place where the end only comes when the author decides. With no physical strength I would slowly type with two fingers. I was typing my way out of the ICU, to a place where a heart would find me.

On November 9th 2004, I was told they had found a match for me. I practiced writing my name that day. My hands were too weak to wrap around a pencil, but I wanted to wake up and go back to school the very next day. I wasn’t done with my story. A month after receiving my heart transplant, I was discharged from the hospital. Six months later I was back at school. A year after that I started my journey as an English major at Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont Colleges. In college, I found writing, once again, to be a method of healing. It gave me the tools to mend my wounds and stitch myself back up. Through poetry, fiction, and autobiography, I introduced my new heart to its new home underneath my skin. Any form of writing became my teacher, my therapist, my love, and my warmth. It was my vehicle to acceptance, and to overcoming, to survival. And here I am. It feels good to be alive!

Now, I am a year out of college and I plan to spend my life encouraging others to continue surviving. Art gives us the medicine which hospitals cannot. I want the world to know that with an artistic outlet, we are never truly alone. Ultimately, art connects us to ourselves; it shows us that which mirrors are blind to. It speaks to us from a place beyond life or death. It gives us wings, so that even in the smallest of hospital rooms, we can fly free.

Stephanie Paseornek