Dropping 10, 20, maybe 30 pounds at a time. Experiencing sharp, excruciating pain in her stomach. These are just bits of Shelbi Zeien’s reality. The 17-year-old from San Ramon has Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory disorder when the immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract.
Her father, Ralph, called her a true fighter who’s been through so much. “She’s had a section of her small intestine removed. It was the size of dental floss, so she went through a year of tube feeding.” Shelbi added, “You never know what’s going to happen. You could be fine one day, next day have a stomachache and be in the hospital.”
But next month, for at least one day, Shelbi knows she’s going to have a smile on her face no matter what. She’s getting to meet her celebrity crush and teen idol, Justin Bieber, at a Colorado concert. The details are still a mystery because the foundation granting her dream, Make-A-Wish, is keeping it a secret. What has she prepared so far in meeting the Biebs? “Hi, I’m Shelby,” she laughed. “That’s what I’ve got so far!”
As she prepares to meet Justin, she’s thanking thousands of kids 30 miles away in Fremont at the Azaveda Elementary School. Second grade teacher Claudine Dentoni came up with the idea of asking her students to write letters that would turn into donations for Make-A-Wish last year. The students from her elementary school came up with about $5,000 - $2 donations from Macy’s for every letter written. This year, it blew up from five schools participating – to 32.
“I was able to really pester the superintendent a lot, and I finally got in front of all the principals and speak to them,” Dentoni recalled. “I have a lot of letters in my garage, currently, and I’ve counted roughly 38,000 letters – and I still have quite a bit to go!” That means quadrupling last year’s fundraising totals to $80,000. At about $8,000 for each wish, this could mean ten wishes granted for ten children in need in the Bay Area.
Ireesa Beltran, 9, said it was a wonderful feeling to write Santa and ask for something on behalf of kids in need. “Dear Santa,” she read. “For Christmas I would like the kids and the adults in the hospitals to have at least. I want them to be happy. I hope our schools in Fremont raise enough money to help these people.”
Eleven-year-old Hannah Smith thought up what she would say. “Dear Santa, for the kids who are very sick, I would hope that they get their wishes to come true and that they’re just happy.”
Friday night at the Macy’s in Walnut Creek, Dentino and some of her kids will deliver the thousands of letters and also meet Shelbi for the first time.
For Shelbi, the smile and the joy comes at a time when many felt only sadness. “It means a lot because without Make-A-Wish, a lot of things couldn’t happen for children.” She paused as tears began to roll down, and added, “There’s so many people out there…. They bring joy to people.”