Critically-Ill Teen's Dream Comes True in New York City

A critically-ill teenager from Washington, D.C. got to see one of her dreams come true in New York City last week, and she hopes her experience will help her to help other children who are suffering. 

Ryann Watson is a 17-year old who has been through hundreds of doctors appointments, surgery, and dealt with bullying at school due to having sickle cell disease. But during Fashion Week, she had a chance to take her mind off it all when she was flown to New York City by non-profit Casey Cares to meet with esteemed bag-designer Danielle DiFerdinando.

“I can’t even encapsulate what it means to me to have other people want to help me," she said of the opportunity.

While sickle cell is a debilitating condition, its common symptoms -- infections, pain, and fatigue -- are often invisible, Watson said. "Doctors didn’t believe that my pain was that bad because of the type of sickle cell I had."

Because you can't see her sickness, people often don't recognize that's she very ill. Watson said she struggles to walk up and down stairs and gets tired when moving for too long. “I missed school a lot because I was usually in doctor’s appointments," she said.

Despite that, she still attends school, and afterwards she enjoys making jewelry and art, and doing fashion design. Watson’s life goal is to work in pediatrics and study art therapy. She believes art therapy is a great distraction for sick children who are suffering, and hopes that one day she can give back.

“I just want to empathize with those children,” she said. "When you’re sick and see someone passionate about you...that's what makes me want to help critically–ill children as well.”

When Casey Cares heard about her mission, the organization decided to provide the once-in-a-lifetime experience to tour a showroom and talk to a real fashion designer about her process. DiFerdinando creates statement jewelry and handbags that feature Disney, Harry Potter, and Rugrats characters. Watson got a chance to learn about the designer's process, and even got to take home some jewelry and purses for inspiration.

Before leaving, DiFerdinando encouraged Watson with some special words. “You are the strongest person I know," she told the sick teen.

According to the United States National Library of Medicine, sickle cell disease causes red blood cells to break down. As recently as 1973, the average lifespan for people with sickle cell disease was only 14 years, the University of Maryland Medical Center states, but today, life expectancy for patients can reach 50 years and beyond.

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