Simply looking at 7-year-old Rachel Martinez of Colorado Springs, one would be hard-pressed to discover that she lives with a heart defect.
In her short life, Rachel has proven herself a strong warrior, overcoming unthinkable obstacles. Diagnosed in utero with congenital heart disease and born with a single ventricle on the right side of her heart and two on her left, Rachel’s heart works harder than most to pump blood throughout her body.
At one time, Rachel used an oxygen tank 24/7. She was so fragile, she couldn’t enter public spaces until she was 3.
“Her immune system was so compromised that if she got sick, it wouldn’t be good,” her mother Beth Martinez said. “We were living in a bubble.”
Already, Rachel has undergone five open-heart surgeries because of her condition.
“Right now, we’re in the stage of regulating and stabilizing,” Beth said.
As she ages, Rachel will need to use more medication to regulate the effects of her condition, and her heart will eventually need to be replaced. But today, Rachel looks just like any other child, and she’s celebrated several successes: overcoming some cognitive delays and participating in speech, physical and occupational therapies.
“She looks and acts like a normal child,” Beth said, though Rachel must regulate her play and take breaks more often to allow her body to rest. With her twinkling brown eyes and bright disposition, Rachel was energetic, running, laughing and playing with her 3-year-old brother David in the Palmer Ridge High School gymnasium on Friday, March 6.
The Martinez family was in attendance for the high school’s Wish Week closing ceremony, concluding Palmer Ridge’s Wish Week, part of Make-A-Wish Colorado’s Kids for Wish Kids program. Students host activities and fundraise to help grant wishes to children across Colorado who, like Rachel, are battling critical illnesses.
At the start of Friday’s assembly, the Palmer Ridge students had raised $9,000 for Wish Week. That was before an additional $2,000 was donated by the National Honor Society, and another $1,000 was donated by students pulling loose change from their pockets during the Miracle Minute, a rapid-fire 60-second donation period.
In total, PRHS raised $12,000 to benefit children like Rachel and their families in their 10th annual Wish Week endeavor. Palmer Ridge has now donated more than $47,000 to Make-A-Wish Colorado.
With their help, Rachel’s wish to meet the Avatars at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. was made a reality.
“This wish is so much more than a family vacation,” Make-A-Wish Colorado’s Sarah Grosh told the student body. “It’s truly a gift, not just for Rachel, but for her entire family. … A wish creates opportunity for hope and the ability to experience life beyond illness, and that is exactly what you guys have given to Rachel and so many Wish Kids over the years.”
Led by Palmer Ridge Student Council Philanthropy Chair Cora Goodwin, the student council planned several Wish Week events to encourage the student body to donate for the cause.
Goodwin said PRHS partnered with Mod Pizza, Texas Roadhouse and Ramen Chops for restaurant nights, earning a portion of proceeds from the restaurants’ sales for Make-A-Wish Colorado. All proceeds from the National Honor Society’s movie night and the school’s Mr. Palmer Ridge competition were donated for the cause, and students could make donations at the front office or online.
“It makes me so excited to know that we helped (Rachel’s) wish come true,” Goodwin said, noting that she was drawn to Make-A-Wish Colorado to give children “hope and allow them to have fun during their difficult time.”
Grosh told the students, “Critical illness truly steals childhood away, but a wish … helps bring it back.”
Rachel’s father, Daniel Martinez, echoed that sentiment. “Growing up, Rachel spent a lot of time in a hospital bed and she couldn’t be a regular kid, and it’s redeemed.”
Daniel told The Tribune that Rachel’s illness has “been a rollercoaster,” for the family. “But she’s totally worth it. She’s the best person I know. She’s really strong. She’s my little hero, truly. She’s been through a lot and has always had such a good attitude.”
Both Rachel’s parents said they were moved by the generosity of the PRHS students and Make-A-Wish Colorado.
“If I had one word, it’s humbling,” Daniel said.
“I cry a lot. The generosity and love are overwhelming,” Beth said.