Ruchoma Sara Miriam Bezalely is a brave 14-year-old girl who survived—and miraculously recovered—from heart and kidney transplants, as well as a leg amputation, which all resulted from contracting the swine flu virus in 2009. Alongside her remarkable family, she has inspired Great Neck’s Jewish community to accomplish great things. I was honored to have met this friendly, charismatic young girl for an interview, which I have shared below.
Q Sara, I’m sure we all wish that you did not have to endure all your ailments or those times in the hospital, but were there any silver linings that you found on the way?
A When I was in the hospital, I met a lot of people who I am very close with. One of my nurses, Michelle Cortizi, is amazing. Through Chai Lifeline, I met one of my best friends, who is like a sister to me. I also began reading the Harry Potter series in the hospital.
Q You have become an inspiration and role model for so many people, through your strength, triumph and smile. Who are your role models?
A I have a lot of role models—my parents, family, friends, as well as different writers who I love.
Q Do you find it difficult to go through a regular school day, since you have so much more life experience than most of your peers?
A Not very. My friends went through it with me and matured along with me. Many of them have known me since before I even knew what a heart transplant was. So, they treat me the same as any normal person would be treated.
Q When you look back at all you went through, what do you think helped you to triumph time after time?
A Thank G-d, whenever people came to visit me in the hospital, they didn’t treat me like a sick person in the bed. They just treated me like a little girl who was a little under the weather. They were cheerful, and would read with me and do projects with me. That really helped me a lot mentally.
Q What is the most difficult part of a regular day for you now, and what helps you cope?
A There are random things that I can’t do—like reaching something—and I need to call my siblings to help me. It’s the hardest not to be able to do it myself. But it helps that my siblings are very understanding.
Q Do you think you were always a fighter or do you think that you changed?
A When I was younger, I was very shy. After I got home from the hospital the second time, people told me that I was completely different. A lot of people noticed that I was not shy anymore, but crazy and loud. Maybe I had this in me before but I was too scared to show it, and the hospital brought me out of my shell.
Q When people see you on the street or in the supermarket, do you feel like they judge you?
A One time I was wearing a mask in Target, because of a low-immune system, and I saw this little boy ask his mom about me. The mom answered that I just didn’t want to breathe in all the germs. I thought it was so beautiful and understanding. Another time, in CVS, a 10-year-old girl asked her mom loudly, “What happened to her?” I turned around very nicely and said, “I’m fine. I’m just sitting in a wheelchair with one leg. I’ll live.” Most people do judge me, but I do not let them.
Q What are your favorite books and hobbies?
A Harry Potter. My father introduced the series to me in the hospital, my mom had read them. It’s not just a book, it’s an entire universe. So, whenever I was feeling down in the hospital, I would open the book and imagine myself as one of the characters, going through the different adventures. It was just amazing. When I returned home, J.K. Rowling sent me a letter, a signed postcard and all the books on tape. I have read each book 17 times.
Another of my hobbies is doing makeup. I loved watching makeup tutorials in the hospital. It can make you feel like you’re a different person or a different character. You can change somebody with makeup. But I don’t wear a lot. I always loved art, too.
Q What are your goals and aspirations for the future?
A Right now, one of my goals is to eventually start walking with my prosthetic leg. Also, I love writing. So, maybe, I’d like doing something with that.
Q I know that you have applied to be on The Ellen DeGeneres show through #getRSMtoEllen. Why? What message would you like to send out to the public?
A When I was in the hospital, my occupational therapist would always talk about the Ellen show. I really want to meet her. Not so that I can get something, but to talk. I would also like to raise awareness about organ donations. I guess it’s not the typical reason people want to be on Ellen.