Once upon a time in America in 1999

As I pack my bags, a halo of excitement floats above my head. Special Olympics Games is indeed a grand experience for every disabled and non-disabled around the world and I can’t congratulate Mr Timothy Shriver and his team enough for this great contribution. Plus being selected as one of the 120 young leaders for the GenUin: Special Olympics Social Impact Summit has kept me up for days now.  But today the matter is more than that.

You might be surprised to know that USA happens to be an integral memory of my childhood. At the age of seven my father took me there for my medical treatment which prolonged to almost a year.

When my Visa arrived my younger cousin asked me,

‘Tanzila Apa you are going to America! How do you feel?’

I said, ‘I feel great because I’m going on a plane’

I knew very little about my medical condition or what exactly I was going abroad for. All I knew was that I am visiting a place that is frequently shown in films. On arrival my visits with the doctors of Valleys Hospital, New Jersey began and after careful consultation with all doctors, it was decided that I will go through a major operation. But I was more concerned about Burger King that evening.

Before my operation I met with a bunch of really friendly people who would tickle me and make me laugh every five seconds with their jokes. Then they took me to a room which was holy for me because it had a complete range of kitchen play-set and a huge Barbie Doll house and other toys. I played there as long as I could and then was sat down for briefing.

‘Tanzila you are going to have an operation now, it might hurt a little later on but we have heard you are very brave’, said Dr Douglas Availa

‘Yes Uncle. No problem’

Later on during my physiotherapy and other post treatments, any and every doctor would bring me a gift from their own pocket. It was not just their level of commitment to their profession. It was also their level of humanity. To each other we were not Pakistani or American, Muslim or Christian, Asian or any other label but individuals that connected through emotions, respect and compassion.It was a four hour operation. I had no clue why my whole family was feeling so emotional because I was having the time of my life! After I woke up, I was met by nurses and staff who would bring me beanie babies and other presents. The staff responsible for my food and care would come over and sit for hours with my mother talking about life and especially her bangles. I would go around the hospital in my wheelchair escorted by the staff to meet and greet other patients. I was soon labeled as, ‘Our favorite girl’. I can’t recall a single time I cried or made a sad face and the staff did not rush to make me feel comfortable.

I even recall my mother saying,

‘If American doctors accept Islam, they will be one of the leading Muslims in this world and in the heavens too’ such were the values and consideration we openly witnessed.

But the case was so similar even outside the hospital. Every person that we met either in a mall, restaurant, and shop or even on the street treated us with kindness and showed special concern for me.

With the same inspiration of compassion, love and humanity even as an eight year old I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to love people. My doctors, nurses and staff at Valley’s Hospital, New Jersey USA are my first inspiration to do what I do today.

After 17 years I will be making another journey to USA tonight and will bring back the spirit of Special Olympics and love of American people.

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