It’s the hug that sets the tone … a hug for the record books.
Sixteen-year-old Julianna has just stepped out of a sleek, black limousine to the cheers and applause of about 40 hospital staff and well-wishers, all there to support her special day, many of them wearing shirts proclaiming just that — “Julianna’s Day!”
But Julianna is focused on just one person in the center of the crowd. She makes a beeline straight into the open arms of Jen Arnold, M.D.
“She gave me such an emotional hug, it made me cry!” says Arnold, a neonatologist and medical director of the Center for Medical Simulation and Innovative Education at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
The fact that Julianna is here to experience this day is worthy of celebration. Critically ill with lung and breathing issues most of her life, she has been a frequent patient at Johns Hopkins All Children’s since she was a toddler. Despite her challenges, this teen’s ebullient spirit propels her to exceed expectations — to live her very best life. She plans to become a doctor.
That’s where the almost magical connection to Arnold comes in. Julianna is a longtime fan of the reality TV series, The Little Couple, of which Arnold is the star. Julie began watching the show when she was just a little girl, spending long periods in hospital beds, hungry for company and open to inspiration. She’s watched Arnold overcome seemingly impossible odds, including health challenges, and achieve great success — all with the kind of grace and strength Julie aspires to in her own life.
When Make-A-Wish Southern Florida approached Julianna’s family to find out what special wish she might like to have come true, her mother knew before her child was even asked.
“There was never any question,” says her mom, Angela. “If she had been offered literally anything in the world, she would have chosen this day with Dr. Arnold.”
“This really is a dream come true for me,” says Julianna. “Dr. Arnold is amazing!”
Arnold has never been asked to be a part of a Make-A-Wish request. She rises to the occasion. She gets busy planning with her team, and they do not disappoint.
The day is packed with fun and surprises, starting with the gift of a crisp, white doctor’s coat with Julianna’s name on it, and a real neonatal stethoscope. Now, looking very much the part — she can get to “work.”
Julianna is given a tour of the simulation center, and receives personal coaching from Arnold with high tech medical mannequins. There are even some simulated emergencies to which she can respond. She and her family learn about moulage, the art of creating casts and using specialty make-up to simulate medical emergencies for training. There is a special visit to the NICU and even a pizza party.
All in all, a very special day. For Julianna — a chance to slip on the coveted role of physician, to make new friends, and most important, to connect with one special mentor whom she loves and admires. For Jen Arnold, M.D., a chance to make a child’s dream come true.
“The whole experience was truly humbling,” Arnold says. “Julianna is a bright, strong and amazing young lady. To be part of her day was remarkable.”
By the end of the day, the two are like old friends, kindred spirits — navigating life’s often-outsized obstacles, and making the most of its surprising gifts.