A charitable heart comes in many disguises. For the children at the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital Pediatric Unit, that heart came in the form of a 13-year-old teen, slight of build but with a mighty passion for giving back.
Since he was in third grade, Christian Dzema has been organizing toy drives benefiting children in local hospitals. This year, a toy drive at Orefield Middle School yielded more than 65 donated toys and games that Christian gave to the Good Shepherd Rehabil-itation Hospital Pediatric Unit in Bethlehem.
“I felt like I needed to personally help out my community,” says Christian.
As an incentive, Christian also gave raffle tickets to a Lehigh Valley IronPigs game to everyone who donated a toy. The tickets were contributed by his family, the IronPigs and PPL, where his father works.
Personal experience has helped shape Christian’s generous spirit. When he was 4-1/2 months old, Christian was adopted from Vietnam. His parents, Thomas and Nancy, noticed he had difficulty moving his tongue. Christian underwent surgery but still struggled to speak clearly and eat safely. An MRI of Christian’s brain revealed he had polymicrogyria, a condition that alters the formation of the brain’s wrinkles, known as gyri. As a result, Christian’s ability to talk and use the fingers of his left hand was affected.
But Good Shepherd was there for him and since the age of five, Christian has been coming to the pediatrics program at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation at CedarPointe for occupational, physical and speech therapy. His challenges drew him to art and music more than sports. “I get inspired by other people’s stories I hear in music on the radio,” he says. “Those songs are very relatable.”
Christian is like any other teenager, says his mother. “He likes hanging out with his friends and family, and he loves to play soccer and ride his bike. Even though he struggles with some of the physical movements, Christian doesn’t get discouraged. He always tries his best and remains positive. He honestly finds happiness and strength in helping other people.”
Christian’s dad is every bit as proud of his son. “Our pediatric neurologist says he is a little miracle given how well he’s able to function and overcome the odds. He’s developed into a smart, funny, caring, young man, and he works very hard through his multiple therapies and never complains. He is a special boy who is growing into a special young man who has a huge heart.”
Christian will continue his toy drives and wants to give again to Good Shepherd next year. He hopes that others his age are able to keep life in perspective by being grateful for what they have when there are others struggling with much harsher realities.
“Most kids get upset over something that really isn’t that big of a deal,” says Christian, “and they don’t realize there are kids who don’t have half of what they have or live on the street…I feel like I’ve left a mark on the world and left something behind. I just know that what I’ve done is good and it makes me feel happy.”
Photo: Christian Dzema (right) with Michael Emerich.