Alejandra Rose Calzadillas roams the halls of West Valley High School fairly anonymously. Only her close friends and school staff know she’s struggling with a disease that will likely kill her someday.
“Most of them don’t know because I look normal,” said Calzadillas, who goes by Lexi. “People don’t look at me and see that I’m disabled.”
In the fall of her freshman year she was diagnosed with juvenile systemic sclerosis, a disease that causes her immune system to attack her own body. “It actually hardens the internal connective tissues,” said her mother, Stacey Carr. “That can include the digestive tract, the heart, the lungs. Left untreated it’s really nasty.”
Carr had known that something was wrong for years. Her daughter had stomach problems, constant heartburn and sores on her fingers that wouldn’t heal. “Her hands were always turning purple, blue and white,” she said. “This was years of this.”
On repeated visits, Calzadillas’ pediatrician said there was nothing wrong with her. “As a mom, you just know when something is desperately wrong,” Carr said.
In 2006 Carr took her daughter to an urgent care facility with an ulcerated finger that was mushy to the touch and turning green. The doctor hit the roof. “He told me my finger was self-amputating,” Calzadillas said. “That got the attention of the rheumatologist.”
Now Calzadillas takes more than a dozen pills, a difficult process because 50 percent of her esophagus is effectively paralyzed and doesn’t contract to help the swallowing process. “You have to swallow a couple of times,” Calzadillas said.
Her new pediatrician, Dr. Sara d’Hulst, recently nominated her for a wish from the Wishing Star Foundation. Instead of asking for a vacation, as many nominees do, she asked for a tattoo by Chris Garver of the “Miami Ink” television show. It was an unusual request, but the foundation was able to line everything up for a spring break trip to Florida in April.
She had previously gotten a tattoo of a rose on her abdomen. “I’ve always liked tattoos,” she said. “I think they’re beautiful. I wanted tattoos before I died.”
Calzadillas asked for a tattoo of Ganesh, the Hindu deity of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. She initially liked the figure because it looked pretty, but soon realized its significance.
The tattoo took five hours, and stretches from her rib cage to her left hip. “It’s a good 10 inches long,” she said. “He just freehand drew this on a piece of paper. That amazes me.”
While her diagnosis has led to some relief of her symptoms, it has meant the end of several dreams. She couldn’t try out for the cheerleading squad. This winter she trained on a treadmill, hoping to run a half marathon in June. But one day she went for a jog outside and her body shut down. All of the pain and disappointments led Calzadillas into what she calls “wild and crazy” behavior for a while. “I’ve never really been depressed,” she said. “I think it was more of a fatalist thing.”
Then she met a Buddhist monk whose spirituality soothed her. “He had a wholeness about him,” she said. “He made me realize how much religion meant to me.”
She cleaned up her behavior and began attending the Spokane Buddhist Temple. “I realized I was just hurting myself and other people,” she said.
Now a junior, she focuses on the future. She knows she can’t be a police officer like her mother or an Army major like her father, who lives in Georgia.
There is one goal she must meet, however. “I need full-coverage health insurance,” she said. “I don’t know how else I would live, literally, if I don’t have health insurance.”
Calzadillas knows she won’t live as long as her peers, but is determined to live her life as normally as possible even as she juggles twice-weekly doctor visits and regular medical tests. “I have no doubt it’ll be shorter,” she said. “I’m hoping that it’s not too short.”
School uses ‘Oprah’ idea
Kara Nelson, a fourth-grade teacher at Logan Elementary School, was watching “The Oprah Winfrey Show” one day. On the show was a segment about Challenge Day – a day when teenagers, parents and teachers challenged each other to do better, not necessarily in scholastic sense, but by being more accepting, kinder and more supportive of one another.
“I took some of that program and made it for elementary level,” Nelson said. “It’s a program that Logan has created.”
The program at the North Side school won the Chase Spirit Award at this year’s Chase Youth Awards.
Weekly challenges can be as simple as students giving high-fives to friends one day, or apologizing to someone who has been hurt by their actions, or simply saying a friendly “Hello” to 10 people, Nelson said.
“Every child is very deserving of recognition for the impact they are making at our school,” Nelson said, adding that other teachers and staff have embraced the program.
Once a month, one student from each classroom is nominated for a Be the Change award.
Nelson said perhaps a student who used to not always tell the truth now has decided to stop lying. Or maybe a student has made a commitment to smile and lift people up instead of putting them down with rude comments.
Many students who would never get an academic or spirit award get Be the Change awards, Nelson said.
“If I give out an award for being the most responsible student or the most trustworthy student in my classroom, you can be pretty sure that same student will get an award again next year,” Nelson said.
Be the Change awards go to many different kids, and students can nominate one another.
Logan started the program in February 2008.
Today, 30 students meet in the Be the Change Club every Tuesday after school, and monthly 30-minute assemblies are now completely run by the students.
“We are trying to create a personal environment where the kids feel comfortable speaking up,” said Nelson. “Kids ask me every day if they can be in BTC – it’s a big deal. It’s about putting spotlight on the kids.”
Pair of Farragut engineers turn heap into electric car
Everyone has a hobby or something entertaining to do after work or on weekends. Some hang out at a local pub, others go fishing or golfing.
Engineers, however, are a different breed.
When finished building stuff, they go home and build more stuff. Such is the case involving two engineers working at the Acoustical Research Detachment of the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Research Division in Bayview, Idaho.
This research facility is all that is left of the massive Farragut Navy base, used for basic training during World War II. The balance of the former base is now Farragut State Park.
Citing high gas prices, Duane Nightingale, 47, and his commuting buddy Dave Mellick, 29, set out to do something about it.
The two friends had been car pooling from Rathdrum to Bayview for several years. They decided to build an electric plug-in car that could travel the 27 or so miles between the two cities. They would leave it on charge while at work, then make the return trip home. Mellick is a computer engineer, and Nightingale is an acoustical engineer. Nightingale has been at the Bayview facility for 12 years, and Mellick for six.
They chose to start with a 1995 GMC Sonoma they found on Craigslist. The price was $1,400. The pair drove to Spokane, purchased the light truck and headed back. They got about halfway home when the engine blew up. Outside of the $200 tow bill, that was all right, said Nightingale. They hadn’t planned on using the engine anyway.
The total cost of the conversion was about $11,000, a figure I had to promise not to reveal to their wives. My lips are sealed, guys.
All engineering was performed by Mellick, with the mechanical work accomplished by Nightingale. The builders used the bed of the truck for the 12 batteries and other paraphernalia, such as an emergency portable generator and junction boxes. The recharge system is set up for 110 volts, AC for convenient plug-ins.
The truck has a range of 40 miles and can comfortably make 65 mph.
The two friends are cruising from Rathdrum to Bayview in dead silence and zero fuel cost. They estimate that the truck costs less than $1 a day to recharge.
Who says automotive engineering has to take place in Detroit or Japan?
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