NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Like many teenagers getting ready for the start of another school year, Karena Bunch, 16, can’t wait to unveil her latest fashion. But, in this case, her new clothes and accessories mean much more to her than they do to the average teenager.
Bunch explained “fashion is a big part of who I am. It’s a big part of expressing who I am. So, when I wear those clothes, I can feel like myself.”
And Karena’s mother, Charity, will tell you, that’s been a long time coming.
“I would never ever want any parent to have to deal with this. But, if your number is called, you will get to see what your family and children are made of.”
The Bunch family knows first hand. In 2020, Karena was diagnosed with a rare case of anemia. It’s something that only one in a million people ever get.
It encompasses 100% bone marrow failure, with no ability to make new blood cells. It meant a loss of a normal existence. It also meant a loss of hair.
“I was so confused about who I was and mentally I was very broken,” said Karena. “Like I said, I felt like I lost everything.”
Once having to take 40 pills a day, Karena needed a transplant. Who better for a donor, than the person she sits across from every night at the dinner table. Her younger brother Kai was ready, willing, and able.
“What she looked like a year ago and what she looks like today… that’s night and day,” said Charity.
To put in perspective, when Karena shows up for the first day of class at The Einstein School in Plano on August 16, it will mark her first real experience of being in person in high school, and she’s in 11th grade. Imagine that…as she sifts through her first day outfit choices.
“I’m much more confident in myself so I feel like it’ll be a lot easier to make new friends. Because, I’m not so afraid to talk to people anymore. I’m nervous and excited.”
A calming influence for Karena during this time, has been the Make-A-Wish foundation of North Texas. Her wish was a shopping spree and that wish was granted — $2,500 to spend as she wished, at the Galleria mall in Dallas.
Sara Roelke, Make-A-Wish North Texas Media Relations Manager, explained “there’s research that shows children who have a wish granted, renew their hope for the future. They’re able to go on living life to the fullest.”
Maggiano’s Little Italy is happy to help serve that mission as well. The restaurant hosted Karena and family for a special dinner. The company has also pledged a portion of their proceeds from their meals to the Make-A-Wish Foundation….now through late August. Maggiano’s CEO Steve Provost says “we have the most generous guests around. I think over 20 years, we’ve raised over $10 million for Make-A-Wish North Texas and other chapters.”
And as significant as a new school year always is, there’s no way to dress up how significant it is for Karena. She sacrificed a lot to get to this point. And she knows more about herself at 16 than some people know about themselves in a lifetime.
She said her battle made her realize “how intelligent I was. How strong I was. How many people loved me. Who I wanted to be. I just want to be happy. That’s what I would say about who I am. I just want to be happy.”