Health & Wellness

Derek Estrada Turns Make-A-Wish Gift into Smiles for 'Medically Fragile' Children

Derek Estrada of New Providence continues to help othe kids that are "medically fragile" because it makes them happy.  Credits: Summit Medical Group

NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Derek Estrada is finally beginning to feel better. And for him, there is no better way to celebrate that than to give back.

Derek, a New Providence resident, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when he was 10 years old. Ulcerative colitis is a disorder that causes ulcerations in the lining of the colon and is very painful. Further, it is incredibly rare: just two in 100,000 people under the age of 20 will be diagnosed in a given year.

For a young child, one who was just looking forward to beginning the fifth grade, a diagnosis such as this can be emotionally debilitating. Understandably, Derek did not fully comprehend what this diagnosis entailed. Thus, it was a frustrating process.

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“He was very upset when he had to keep going for blood work and testing,” his mother, Barbara Estrada, explained.  “He had a lot of side effects from most of the meds he was on and they made him not feel well, frustrated him and made him sad.”

Initially, treatment for his ulcerative colitis did not take, according to Derek’s pediatrician, Dr. Kathleen Cuddihy. As such, he was forced to spend a lot of time at Summit Medical Group, culminating in major colon surgery.

Yet the spirits of Derek never wavered. “Derek always had confidence in his doctors and nurses that he would be well again,” Dr. Cuddihy said.

Since the surgery, Derek has been able to take major strides towards recovery. “Derek is doing really well since having colon surgery,” his mother explained. “He has grown a little over 3 inches, is in school a lot more and is generally much healthier.  He is still working on building up his stamina but for the most part is back to being his happy, animated self.  I am happy to see him smiling a whole lot more, hanging out with his friends and doing things a 12-year-old boy should be doing.”

Should the story of Derek Estrada end there, it would be one of a young man who has persevered past a possible life-threatening condition, and it would be a great one. But his goes so much further. 

“The first time Derek had to be in the hospital, about three months after he was diagnosed, after he was discharged and we were driving home he said, ‘You know what I missed most while I was in the hospital?’ There were several things I thought he would say – his bed, our cat, his friends and family – but his answer was ‘seeing kids smile'.”

Being diagnosed with such a debilitating chronic illness can emotionally ravage almost anyone, especially someone who was so young. And yet, Derek Estrada found joy in supporting those who were in the situation closest to his. He has embarked on a multitude of giving projects, including the New Jersey Sharing Network 5K run in New Providence, and the Crohn's & Colitis Take Steps to Be Heard Walk at Liberty State Park in Jersey City.

“Derek is a very compassionate young man who looks for ways to assist people who also have had unique challenges,” Dr. Cuddihy said. “Laura DeMaria PNP, our nurse practioner, and myself nominated him for Make-A-Wish Foundation so he could have an extraordinary experience after all he endured.  Characteristically, Derek used this opportunity to give other medically fragile children a brighter day.”

The Make-a-Wish Foundation offered to help pay for gifts Derek gave to children during a celebration at St. Jude's Pavilion in Memphis. He took a charitable cause that was for his own benefit and used it to provide his own source of charity.

For Derek, this giving spirit seems to be the plainly obvious thing that he should do, and he’s the perfect one for it.

“They deserve to have happiness and be distracted from being sick and testing for a while and if I can provide that with the little things that I am able to do then it makes me happy to be able to do it.  No one knows the sadness and fear a sick child has except another sick child. I will continue to help other kids because it makes them happy.”

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