Jennifer Ochoa is shy, but certain subjects trigger a smile on the 16-year-old's face.
Angels, art and school have just such an effect on Jennifer.
Her bedroom, from headboard to pictures to stuffed toys, is decorated with about 300 angels.
Whether using regular pencils or colored pencils, she loves to draw. She says it relaxes her.
And for Jennifer, school falls in that “you don't miss it until it is gone” category. Last year it was gone from her daily routine. But as of a few weeks ago, it is back.
She's a freshman at Capitol Hill High School taking core classes in the classroom two full days and three half-days a week. What about the other half-days? This week she's scheduled to begin taking courses such as geography, Oklahoma history and digital art online while she's receiving dialysis treatment in the dialysis unit at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center.
Jennifer never was sick. She hadn't been in a hospital since her birth in August 1996, her mother, Patricia Ochoa, said. But then, in August 2009, Jennifer had flu-like symptoms. That's what most everyone assumed it was at first.
Her condition worsened, and about September 2009, she was diagnosed with microscopic polyangiitis, a vascular disease. In her case, it led to kidney failure. She's now on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.
In 2011, her illness led to complications that kept her home, and she missed her ninth-grade year.
“I missed mostly everything, and I knew I was going to have to start ninth grade again; I didn't know what to do,” she said. “Then I went to Capitol Hill this year, and they got everything set up and they told me I could still be a full-time student. I tried it, and I like it.
“The kids are nice, and I have new friends. And I have a lot of nice teachers. They know what's wrong with me, and they really try to help me as much as they can.”
Important to return
Patricia Ochoa said that although her daughter wasn't depressed last year, Jennifer was feeling down a lot. Her life was focused on the illness she was battling, and she fought it at home. Then she started improving a little. The teen, her mother, as well as doctors and staff in the kidney unit, thought it was very important that Jennifer return to the classroom as much as possible.
That wouldn't be particularly easy considering the time taken up by the dialysis treatment.
Dialysis is a treatment for people whose kidneys aren't functioning properly. It filters a patient's blood, removing harmful waste, extra salt and water, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Jennifer and other dialysis treatment patients at Children's are typically at the hospital Monday, Wednesday and Friday, three to three and a half hours each day.
But while taking the treatment, there was some time available. That's where the online courses come in.
“It is a blessing because I know she couldn't be a full-time student,” Patricia said. “She not only has the dialysis on the three afternoons, she gets really, really tired after treatment. This way she can work on those classes while she's sitting here at the hospital.”
“I didn't like sitting at home, not doing anything,” Jennifer said. “Our school is fun because we get to do projects as a group. I like being around other people.”
She's a lot closer to the Jennifer pre-August 2009, her mother said.
Jennifer will pull up on her laptop computer several recent drawings, including that of an angel.
“I had to get back to school because I want to go on and graduate and go to college and study art,” Jennifer said.
The differences in Jennifer between a year ago and now are very noticeable to her mother.
“Every day to her is a chance to see something beautiful,” Patricia said, “whether it's the sunrise or the colors in the sky.
“She actually knows that she's going to live.”
Every day to her is a chance to see something beautiful, whether it's the sunrise or the colors in the sky. She actually knows that she's going to live.”