PCHS student plays Santa to children at Primary Children’s Hospital
Jaki Perry had been plagued by the symptoms for much of her life, but they had never been this bad.
It was last year during the final Park City High School volleyball game of the season. Perry, a setter, had trouble staying upright and the court was blurry. When the match ended, she hurried out of the gym and nearly fell to her knees. She braced herself for support.
"I was leaning up against the wall and I couldn’t see," said Perry, a junior at PCHS. "Everything was going blurry. My hands got numb and my head got numb. I knew that something was seriously wrong."
Perry’s mother found her in the hallway and rushed her to the emergency room at the Park City Medical Center. Doctors soon diagnosed her with Chiari malformation, a chronic condition in which her cerebellum was pushing up against her spinal cord.
"I’ve had it my whole life," she said. "When I look back on it, I think I’ve always had symptoms — I just didn’t know what it was."
Soon after, she had the first of two brain surgeries. Doctors at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City went into her skull and carved out more space for her cerebellum, allowing fluid to circulate better. She had the second surgery in February and may need others in the future.
The experience has left Perry a different person. Her symptoms have gotten slightly better — the headaches are less frequent and her balance is better, though she does get vertigo more often. But where she has really changed is her appreciation for life. She now realizes what matters and what doesn’t. She knows what to focus on, understands what’s truly important.
"I’ve changed so much since I got diagnosed," she said.
With that new perspective on life, she began a project to help kids at Primary Children’s Hospital. She enlisted the help of other students at the high school and Treasure Mountain Junior High to give the children a happier holiday season. Her peers in her Spanish class helped make more than 100 fleece blankets. Other students donated enough toys such as Hot Wheels cars and Barbie dolls to fill up Perry’s mother’s full-size SUV.
"I just know that my time in the hospital was not very fun," she said. "And there are kids there who are 4 or 5 years old who have life-threatening conditions like cancer. I don’t know — I just thought that they needed help. A lot of people can’t afford to have a Christmas after paying for their kid in the hospital, so I thought it would be a good time to do this. Christmas is a special time, especially for kids, and being in the hospital instead of home is not where you want to be."
Perry, who along with a handful of friends donated the blankets and toys to the hospital Friday, was blown away by the amount of support her classmates gave to the cause. But she’s not the only one taken aback by the experience.
Julie Perry, Jaki’s mother, said her daughter’s hard work has inspired her. While Jaki has always been a generous person, her health problems have made her "really blossom that way."
She is hopeful the donations mean a lot to the children and families that receive them.
"I’m just so proud," Julie said. "We were there for a week at a time, but if it was during Christmas, there’s no way we could have gone shopping or anything like that. It’s not normal to be in the hospital and so worried — it’s a tough situation that would be extra stressful at Christmas. So I was proud that she wanted to do this and help the kids and families at the hospital during the holidays."
For her part, Jaki said she has learned how valuable giving to others is. Having gone through a challenging experience herself, she understands how even small gestures can make life’s burdens easier to bear.
"I think it’s important to make a difference and give back," she said. "Everyone in their life is going to go through something that is difficult. And it’s not fun to go through hard times by yourself. To have people help you out is important, and I think it’s important to make a difference."
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.