Nicolas' wish was to give toys with inspirational messages on them to children who were undergoing medical treatments at the hospital he was once a patient in. He says as a patient he remembered seeing the even five seconds of joy that getting a gift or some positive encouragement can bring for a child fighting a critical illness.
Eighteen-year-old Nicolas grew up a “normal kid” in Encino with his parents and older brother. He loved to go to the mall with his friends, watch movies and travel with his family. He was looking forward to switching high schools to a school focused on art and making new friends. A few weeks in, he got a really bad headache that got progressively worse resulting in having to miss school for two weeks. Initially doctors thought it was vertigo, but one fateful day (the day before his 17th birthday), he had to be rushed to the ER and life completely changed for the teenager. After a CT scan, he remembers the nurse coming back into the room with sheer panic on her face. She delivered the grave news that there was something on his brain and that he needed to be rushed to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) for emergency testing. Doctors there discovered the worst – a highly malignant brain tumor that would require 8 months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation. Although this type of tumor is highly treatable, the terrifying diagnosis left Nicolas feeling extremely scared and confused. “I had such a regular life. It was so unexpected,” Nicolas said. “I was in shock. Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”
Putting all his trust into his doctors and medical treatments was very hard. But Nicolas says it was even more difficult feeling different than everyone else – especially during his teenage years. He had to spend a year in the hospital undergoing treatments. Nicolas lost all his hair and eyebrows and had a sizable scar on the back of his head. “I felt I wouldn’t be myself again. I wasn’t going to be the old Nick. I got really depressed being in the hospital every single day. I’d constantly search online for brain cancer to find connection with other people so I didn’t feel so alone.”
Nicolas says this is the exact reason why he wished to give back to the children at CHLA. A couple months into his treatments, his social worker told him that he was eligible for a wish through Make-A-Wish. At first, he thought of getting a big pool in his backyard or going to Bora Bora with his family. But he ultimately decided to selflessly pay his wish forward to children like himself who are going through dark times. His wish was specifically to give toys with inspirational messages on them to children who were undergoing medical treatments at the hospital he was once a patient in. He says he remembered seeing the even five seconds of joy that getting a gift or some positive encouragement can bring for a child fighting a critical illness. “I can’t imagine a kid even younger than me going through that. With way worse conditions. Just to make two seconds of their life better would make me happy.”
Thanks to an anonymous donor, Disney and CHLA, Nicolas’ wish came true – he reached out to children in need and in turn, built back his own strength and confidence. Decked out in a blue superhero cape with his name on it, Nicolas rolled numerous wagons filled with age-appropriate toys for the inpatient children at CHLA. Each of them had an inspiring saying including: “Just know one day this will be a memory.”; “Reach high, Dream big, Stay positive.”; and “You’re stronger than you know, braver than you think, more loved than you can imagine.”
Of the experience Nicolas says, “A family reached out to me a couple of days after on Instagram, and said ‘my daughter has never smiled this much and been this upbeat in months. She’s been smiling and dancing with her toy.’ I’m so grateful for getting the opportunity to do that. I’m more appreciative of the life I have. This situation taught me everything about what’s important in life.”
Today, Nicolas is in remission, taking college courses and looking towards his bright future.