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Bransen Fernando of Beaverton and Desiree Castillo of Hillsboro have overcome medical challenges.

For the past 16 years, Oregon Health & Science University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital and Nike have partnered to create the Doernbecher Freestyle Program, in which Doernbecher patients are given a chance to work with Nike designers to make their own personal-collection apparel items.

After Doernbecher staff members sit down and decide which six patients to nominate for the Freestyle program, the children are notified and set up with their very own Nike team to work with.

"Each kid designs a shoe, along with other apparel items like a hoodie or a backpack," explained Jennifer Amie, OHSU's foundation director of marketing and communication.

When their design is complete, Amie said, "each kid's collection premiers at an auction and fundraising event for the hospital that takes place in November."

Over the last 16 years, more than $25 million has been raised from Freestyle to benefit the hospital, according to Amie.

This year, two of the six participants in the Freestyle program are Washington County residents.

COURTESY PHOTO - Beaverton resident Bransen Fernando, who survived kidney cancer as an infant, is now a shoe designer in the Doernbecher Freestyle Program.

Meet Bransen Fernando

Beaverton resident Bransen Fernando was diagnosed with kidney cancer when he was just seven months old. Undergoing several complicated surgeries at OHSU, by 14 months Bransen had one kidney removed and half of another one taken out.

Bransen's mother, Christina, recalled that although her son was living with just a half a kidney, "Our medical team really encouraged him to get on with life. ... He played basketball, he played baseball and he swam."

Today, Bransen is 13 years old. He received a kidney transplant last March after nearly 12 years of living without one whole kidney.

Bransen, who has a passion for robotics and golf, commented on his experience with his Nike team at the Freestyle program: "The team is really nice. Whatever I want to put on the shoe, they'd never say no to me."

Most of all, he said, "They are also really funny."

"Watching his confidence grow has been huge," Bransen's mother said. "When we first heard about it, I was nervous because he is pretty quiet and shy at times, but now he has no problem talking and being an encouragement for other kids."

COURTESY PHOTO - Hillsboro resident Desiree Castillo has overcome diabetes, celiac disease and depression. She now hopes to inspire others by designing a sneaker for the Doernbecher Freestyle Program.

Meet Desiree Castillo

Desiree Castillo, a resident of Hillsboro, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at OHSU's Doernbecher Hospital when she was eight years old.

Now, Desiree is 12. She reflected on her frustration when she returned to school that year with the diagnosis.

"When I announced to my class that I was a Type I diabetic, they never stopped asking me if I was OK," Desiree said. "I would want to eat something, and then everyone would ask me, 'Can you eat that?'"

The constant questioning about what foods she could or could not eat was another frustration she faced on top of learning how to navigate her diabetes.

"It's manageable," said Nicole, Desiree's mother, "but it's a struggle every day."

Then, just six months after being diagnosed with diabetes, Desiree was diagnosed with celiac disease — which, unlike Type I diabetes, excluded her from eating the same thing as other kids at birthday parties or school functions. She had to eliminate gluten from her diet.

On top of navigating her health issues, Desiree received news that an aunt who was very close had passed away.

"I was totally changed after my aunt died," she recalled.

Desiree was diagnosed with depression and went through a mental health intervention last year.

"I learned a couple of different strategies of what to do when I'm feeling sad, and how to tell my mom and dad about it, and how important it is to speak up and tell people what's going on," she said.

Desiree learned of her nomination to the Freestyle program this January.

"That was extremely exciting," Desiree said. "My team is the best. They are super helpful."

"She's always had a voice, but she wasn't comfortable using it at the time," said her mom. However, since Desiree has been going through the program, she's noticed, "The shine came back to her smile and the twinkle came back to her eyes. She feels so confident after she works with her team."

Sharing their designs and their stories

On Friday, Nov. 8, Bransen and Desiree, along with the other four participants in the Freestyle program, will reveal their designs to the public for the first time at Portland State's Viking Pavilion.

"I'm super excited. I can't wait to show everybody," Bransen said.

In addition, the kids will have the chance to share their medical journeys and how it has shaped who they are today.

"It's been hard," Desiree said, "but if I can say that I can help one person, then that would be huge."


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