Please indulge me as I take a quick break from Star Trek to spotlight a very special little girl and her amazing parents… and an inspirational song and music video for anyone facing illness, adversity, or just being dealt a bad hand in life.
I first met ELYSA SHAPIRO a little over a year ago at the beginning of first grade for my son, Jayden. His school admits a wide diversity of students, and Elysa was no exception. She had leukemia. She’d been diagnosed a year earlier, and her treatment and hospitalization had resulted in her missing her entire kindergarten year. Faced with the choice between of holding Elysa back or letting her start school as a first grader with children her own age, Elysa’s parents, HOWARD and NANCY, decided on the latter.
It wasn’t an easy decision. While the other kids in her new first grade class had all shared the lessons and social development of kindergarten together, Elysa had spent the prior year in and out of hospitals, wearing a mask to filter out any germs that could overwhelm her immune system, and undergoing chemotherapy and other agonizing and exhausting cancer treatments at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
As welcoming as Jayden’s school is to new children and those with unique challenges, it was still a sometimes-traumatic experience for Elysa. Although most days, Elysa was just fine, with a smile and laugh and courteous demeanor that melted my heart, other days I would see her struggling, sobbing, crying to her mother not to leave her. During those first few months of first grade, while the other kids would be picked up at the back gate in the afternoon, Elysa often wouldn’t even make it through a full day and had to be taken home early.
Her treatments were still going on, and Elysa’s mom and I would occasionally chat about how things were progressing for Elysa. It broke my heart to hear what this sweet little girl had to go through.
Elysa’s treatments included regular trips to the hospital to get excruciating injections with huge needles into her back and other things I won’t torture you with having to read. Just know that these treatments would repeatedly keep Elysa out of school for a day or more at a time. And with super-short hair that was only just beginning to grow back and an inability to come to birthdays and other large gatherings because of potential germs and infections that her immune system couldn’t yet handle, Elysa’s first grade experience was filled with stress, anxiety, and I’m sure some feelings of isolation.
Fortunately, Elysa not only has two wonderful and loving parents and top-notch doctors, but she also has a caring and nurturing school—one of the best I could ever imagine—with a classroom full of good friends (including my son Jayden) who supported Elysa and never made her feel like anything other than a normal little girl who was an essential part of their little community.
Elysa also had the Los Angeles Dodgers. During her first month of hospitalization at Cedars in 2016, she was visited by Dodgers Clayton Kershaw, Joc Pederson, and Kike Hernandez (her favorite player). Elysa is a HUGE Dodgers fan, following in the footsteps of her dad and grandfather, and so a visit from three players was enough to get her out of bed and walking through the hospital halls for the first time in weeks.
A year later, with her hair starting to grow back and now healthy enough to venture out into the world, Elysa was invited to throw out the first pitch at Dodgers Stadium in Elysian Park on July 30, 2017. A couple of months later, the Dodgers made it into the World Series, and Elysa got to be in the stands for game two.
I watched as Elysa completed first grade, having emerged from her early semester anxieties to be picked up at the back gate every afternoon. She would always smile at me and say good-bye to Jayden. Gone were the sobs and anguished cries, leaving just the rays of sunshine that would come from this precious child.
But Elysa wasn’t out of the woods yet.
As the children returned for the start of second grade, I saw Elysa in a wheelchair and then later with a roller/scooter that she would kneel on with one knee while pushing herself along with the other. What happened? Apparently, there were side-effects of her leukemia treatments that required injections of a medicine that itself had a side-effect: it made Elysa’s bones temporarily brittle. Micr0-fractures spread through both of her legs, and eventually, she had to walk with braces on. She’s still walking awkwardly today, but she’s walking…never slowing down and keeping up with all of her friends and classmates. Once the treatments end, her bones should return to normal.
This past week, Elysa had her final treatment. She told all of the kids in the class, and Jayden told me on Thursday night. Elysa’s hair has grown back nicely, she’s healthy and happy and ready for a normal life as a bright and precocious second grader.
Yesterday, her parents shared a link to a special video on YouTube. Elysa’s father, Howard, wrote an amazing and uplifting song to celebrate his daughter’s journey, strength, and triumph. (Honestly, I didn’t even know the guy wrote music! But hey, this is L.A., right?) The song is inspirational and left me with tears running down my cheeks. The vocals by WINDY WAGNER are also excellent. But the main reason I’m sharing this is to join in the celebration of the indomitable spirit, endurance, and optimism of an incredible little seven-year-old who I sincerely believe can do anything!
I am a fan of Elysa and her family, and after you watch this video, I think you will be, too. And then maybe you’d like to share it with someone you love…