Forget visiting the mouse in Anaheim or Orlando. Nix on meeting a sports star. When it came his turn to receive a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Jorge “Fabian” Trejo-Ibarra gave it some serious thought and came up with a serious wish — a scholarship that will allow him to attend UNLV.
“I am very passionate about college and education,” he said. “I think the most important thing a person can have is knowledge.”
And, through the local Make-A-Wish Foundation chapter, the company Rig-Rents is supplying a scholarship to make his ambitious dream come true.
Even before he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma during his junior year at Bonanza High School, he had become interested in a career in health care.
“I took a health science class in my junior year and I started to be fascinated by the health care industry,” he said. “The thing about medicine is that the intentions are so pure — the only focus is healing, making people feel better.
“Once I got sick, which was in middle of that year, that only solidified my passion, my love, and my interest in the medical field.”
Already, Trejo-Ibarra is looking past the undergraduate degree.
“As of now I am doing nursing but I am doing that so that when I graduate I can get a lot of hands-on experience with patients as well as using the nurse’s salary to help me pay for medical school, said Trejo-Ibarra, who turned 18 last month. “That way I will have experience and some money.
“I know I want to be in a specialty that is high-energy. I am not the kind of person who wants to stand around and wait for something to happen. I like to get things done,” he said. “I think maybe ER nursing (would be a good choice). If I go to medical school, I would like to be a surgeon. Maybe becoming a scrub nurse would be good, letting me be in that environment and watching doctors in the operating room.
“Both are noble professions that I respect highly.”
Trejo-Ibarra’s close contact with the medical field began with relatively mild symptoms that he said were easy to ignore. Once he sought medical help, he said he was given a variety of misdiagnoses, including bronchitis. But once the symptoms got bad enough, that’s when the Hodgkins was diagnosed.
“At first I personally thought I wasn’t going to be effected much,” he said, adding that that quickly proved wrong. “It about effected everything day-to-day, my energy level and mood. Once you are immunocompromised, it makes everything more difficult.”
He had months of rigorous chemotherapy followed by radiation. He had to avoid large groups of people and stay home most of the time.
But things have improved markedly and he now is in remission. His doctors monitor him closely, frequently doing blood work.
And with his improved condition came Trejo-Ibarra’s decision to get a job when the COVID-19 pandemic began. “I made sure I checked with my doctor to make sure I was OK to work.
“I work as a stocker at Walmart, stocking shelves, unloading trucks, organizing, cleaning.
Trejo-Ibarra credits one of his physicians, Dr. Joseph Lasky, with connecting him with Make-A-Wish. He said that a couple of months after his diagnosis, Lasky told him that he had made an application to Make-A-Wish on Trejo-Ibarra’s behalf.
“I didn’t know what Make-A-Wish really did for kids like me.”
This summer Trejo-Ibarra, accompanied by his parents and sister, went to the local Make-A-Wish office to sign some paperwork. “I just thought it was something routine. I was very wrong.”
Instead he found himself surrounded by numerous people as well as copious amounts of UNLV memorabilia — shirts, stickers, posters — balloons, and one large replica check representing his scholarship money.
“They all congratulated me. It was very beautiful,” he said. His parents and sister were “just as surprised as I was” and were “ecstatic,” he said, especially as he will be the first in his family to attend college. Trejo-Ibarra comes from a home where his parents speak Spanish to him and he replies in English “to help them practice.” He said his family has encouraged his academic dreams from the beginning.
Scott Rosenzweig, vice president for mission advancement at Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada, also is encouraging. “Fabian is another example of our many wish kids who defy the odds of their physical challenges and go on to live extraordinary lives. As Fabian gets his education at UNLV to be a nurse, we’re sure he’ll later become a referral source for us to help ensure every eligible child in Southern Nevada gets their own wish experience!”
A new chapter
Trejo-Ibarra, who felt he had outgrown high school once he completed his chemotherapy and radiation, is eager to experience the cultural diversity that was one of his primary attractions to UNLV.
“I am ready to start the chapter of self-discovery.”