“I learned that, even though they have no hair or they’re confined to a bed in the hospital, sick children have the same emotional needs as healthy ones.”
She came to LA from New Orleans to act and got off to a rip-snorting start. Sort of. “I had a good part in the film Steel Magnolias,” recalls Aja Sanzone with a laugh. “But then I got left on the editing room floor.” Since then Aja has left a good bit of herself—in a very positive sense—wherever she has gone, including the SMC campus.
“I played basketball as a Corsair for three years,” she says. A damaged knee requiring surgery nearly ended Aja’s “roundball” career. “But I bounced back from that and got the SMC ‘Athlete of the Year’ award,” she adds proudly. And Aja saw her own resilience—the phenomenal human ability to battle back against the odds—mirrored in the children she spent the past summer with as an SMC intern at UCLA Medical Center.
“I was working in the pediatric unit of the Child Development Center,” says Aja, who plans to become a pediatrician. “These were pretty ill children: a lot of transplant cases and cancer patients. And there was one little girl who had AIDS, leukemia and congestive heart failure. She was living on borrowed time, but she was playing and doing her arts and crafts as though she would live forever.”
Aja credits the UCLA medical staff with creating an atmosphere where ill children could feel comfortable and involved in normal childhood. “They were very supportive, patient and accommodating to me personally,” she recalls. “They set up play therapy sessions to help kids cope. They even have activities for siblings so they will feel involved,” says Aja. “There’s a strong feeling among the staff that the development of child patients and their emotional growth has an important effect on their overall well-being.”
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