A Note Written 20 Years Ago Resurfaces with a Powerful Message

A Story That Will Inspire You

By Courtney Daly-Pavone September 26, 2018

In the information age we compose our thoughts in twenty characters or less, we click send.  Now more than ever, there is something special about a homemade card.  Like a time capsule, our thoughts, feelings, and raison d'etre are preserved.  Some of these mementos are stored away in closets, others thrown away, but this is a story about one special card that was not forgotten. 

Twenty years ago, Jennifer Auger wrote a note to Karen, an Orangutan at the San Diego Zoo.  Back then, Jennifer was a child battling Leukemia.  Her mom suggested writing a card to Karen who had just undergone open-heart surgery. "My mom told me she was worried that I was feeling sad and scared, so she told me about a little Orangutan at the zoo who was sick like me.  She thought if I wrote her a letter of encouragement, it might help lift my spirits and make me feel not as alone in my illness. She promised me we could go visit Karen when we both got better, that gave me something special to look forward to," said Jennifer. 


Like a letter to Santa, this might seem more like a wish than writing to a live person, but Jennifer's letter was received and read by Georgeanne Irvine Director of San Diego Zoo Global.  Georgeanne instinctively saved the card knowing its importance.  That card was recently published in the children's book, Karen's Heart: The True Story of a Brave Baby Orangutan, which tells the story of Karen the Orangutan's revolutionary open-heart surgery.  Karen's operation was more than just one giant step for veterinary science,  but one giant leap for public empathy for animals.  

Jennifer recently gave a speech at the launch party for San Diego Zoo Global Press.  Now a poised young woman, she shared her experience fighting cancer to a captivated audience.  Not only did Jennifer beat cancer, and as she put her "Spirit Animal Karen the Orangutan" survived heart surgery, but Jennifer is now an Emergency Room Nurse at Rady Children's Hospital.  "Going through my cancer journey at such a young age really impacted my future.  At the time of my treatment, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I think being around the nurses and doctors had a lasting impression on me and it is almost as if I was destined to become a nurse." 

These days Jennifer works with children everyday who are in the throes of cancer.  What better healer than someone who has been through that arduous journey. What a voice for children in their time of need.  "I hope I can be a source of encouragement and inspiration that kids are strong and amazing, even in the face of cancer," said Jennifer. She added, "There is so much hope in childhood cancer today.  The pediatric cancer journey is difficult, but the cure rates are on the rise and there are many caring people to help along the way!" 

I share this story because it is inspiring, what doesn't break us makes us stronger, unites us and sometimes leads us to our purpose.

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