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North Philadelphia Teens Graduate From The St. Christopher’s Hospital Health Tech Program

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - A story I did today got me thinking. It wasn’t the assignment itself; it was the connection to three young people, with very big dreams.

Their names are Sia’niya Murray, Marc Mystal and Heidy Nunez-Perez. They are among the 40 graduates from the St. Christopher’s Hospital Health Tech program. Today, they received their certificates.

While they all attended Olney High School, located in one of Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods, they spent hours each week for years in hospital scrubs, working next to mentors in virtually every hospital department. From childhood, each was drawn to health care. The 18-year old Health Tech program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children offered them fertile ground for their dreams to grow.

Sia’niya, Marc and Heidy all want to be doctors. Now, they think it’s possible.

“My dream? I want to be a brain surgeon,” says Sia’niya. And even laughs at the wonder of it all. “I love the way the brain functions. I love the way it looks.”

Choices are all part of growing up. When Sia’niya failed one high school course this spring, because she was working long hours at her part-time job at the Burlington Coat Factory, she made a choice, after answering a pointed question.

“Do I want to work at Burlington the rest of my life with an “F”, or do I want to quit Burlington and get my grades up, so I can go to college and be able to take care of my family? So, I chose to do that.”

Sia’niya was accepted to 14 colleges. She’s going to Kutztown in September.

Watch the video…

Then, there’s Marc – 19 years old, handsome, shy and from Haiti. He arrived in Olney just three years ago. The neighborhood where he grew up had been destroyed in the Haitian earthquake in 2009.

He speaks about a gratitude to God for a friend who led him to this program. When marc was a boy in Haiti, he watched a 24-year-old friend stay in a hospital for nine months before he died.

What is Marc’s dream? “I would like to go back to Haiti to build some hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.”

He calls the Health Tech program, “amazing”. His most recent assignment has had him keeping track of patients coming into the emergency room.

St. Christopher’s emergency room is a safe haven that some of these at-risk students now may be finding a career.

Barbara Liccio is the program director. “We are teaching skills and introducing the importance of an education, economic self-sufficiency and independence. When they leave the program, they are mature adults, ready to really go out and capture the world,” says Liccio.

They’re capturing a world that scared Heidy when she arrived from the Dominican Republic at the age of 13. She didn’t speak English but wanted to be accepted. Her desire to help children led her to St. Christopher’s. Though her accent is still evident, she speaks clearly of her dream.

“With the help of my mom,” Heidy says, “She kept telling me that I can do it and be someone in life. And I’m doing it.”

Heidy wants to be a pediatrician.

As this assignment was unfolding, the unexpected happened. We followed Sia’niya to orthopedics where her mentors, Shelly and Blanche, were waiting. They spoke about her excellence and eagerness to learn all about their busy practice. And Sia’niya revealed something they didn’t know.

“When I came here, I was so scared,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to fit in. But everybody here took me like part of the family and I thank them for that.”

Tears began to stream down Sia’niya’s face – happy tears, she said, but happy because of an even bigger realization.

“They made me realize that not everybody is mean. Not everybody is out to get you. They’re so nice to me.”

You wonder what happens in a young girl’s life that prompts tears. Having someone be nice to you, accept you, allow you to fit in, doesn’t seem like it should be so profound.

I made me remember. Medicine is never just about the physical. It’s about the spirit too.

Good luck, “doctors-in-training.” There’s much healing to be done.

Reported by Pat Ciarrocchi, CBS 3

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