Jalen Huckabay, 16, sings into the microphone as she records the song she has just written at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston on Dec. 12. The hospital has a one-of-a-kind program that gives pediatric cancer patients a chance to record their own songs. Jalen received a liver transplant and three years later a lung transplant. Associated press photo by Pat Sullivan
ALBANY, Texas -- Who needs "American Idol" to become a star? Sixteen-year-old Jalen Huckabay became a recording star thanks a story by The Associated Press.
The story about Purple Songs Can Fly, a one-of-a-kind program at Texas Children's Hospital, appeared in the Abilene Reporter-News and other newspapers across the country Friday. In addition, radio and television stations carried the story.
The story didn't mention Jalen is from Albany, but then again she hasn't spent much time here.
"We've been home for two weeks, and we'll leave this weekend for Texas Children's Hospital in Houston for treatment again," said Jalen's mother, Karen Huckabay. This is the first time in four months that the family has been home. "Then in about four days we'll come back home, and five days after that we'll go back to Houston."
Jalen was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 3 months old. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects the respiratory and digestive systems. Respiratory symptoms typically appear before digestive problems, but when Jalen was 13, she started experiencing digestive symptoms. The unusual order of symptoms made her the topic of medical research papers.
Jalen received a liver transplant, and three years later a lung transplant. After the lung transplant, doctors asked her to remain in Houston for the rest of her treatment.
This request added unexpected expenses such as hospital parking ($11 per day), food, gas and an apartment.
Jalen's hometown pitched in to help with medical expenses whether it be a Mexican pile-on dinner, a golf tournament or a silent auction at the high school.
"They've raised about $30,000 for us in the past year. We've had people we don't even know donate thousands of dollars," Karen said. "Sierra Scott, a junior high student from Albany, won a contest and gave all of her prize money to Jalen. I just don't know what we would do without everyone's support."
Jalen has been doing a little bit of fundraising herself. While she was hospitalized last fall she created the "Build-a-Friend" fund for Texas Children's Hospital.
"Some of the children's parents in the hospital don't come and visit them as much as mine do," Jalen said. "They looked so lonely, I wanted them to have a friend."
Jalen's fund has given away more than 150 stuffed animals to patients. The frequent visits to Build-a-Bear, a store at which customers can make their own stuffed animals, led to her being on an advisory board for Build-a-Bear.
After Jalen's transplant the doctors discovered that the lungs she received contained Epstein-Barr virus. The virus had infected the lymph nodes in her throat, and she would need another surgery to remove the infected lymph nodes.
"Jalen's doctor caught it early and was able to remove the main infected nodes, but she needed chemotherapy to completely get rid of the infected area," Karen said.
While Jalen was undergoing chemotherapy, her doctor suggested the teen try recording a song through the Purple Songs can Fly program. After much hesitation, Jalen decided to record a song about her dog, Jasmine. A reporter was doing a story about the program, and Jalen was featured prominently in the article.
Jalen, however, is not thinking of becoming famous -- she's just happy to be home.
"I have a friend coming over for a sleepover tonight, and another friend came by and gave me a Christmas present," Jalen said Friday. "In a hospital you're just stuck in a tiny room. It gets old. I'm happy to be home, even if it's for a little while."
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I wish everyone Happy Holidays and all the best for 2009