Beads of hope

Beads of hope

Patient donates earnings from jewelry to help children with cancer

By Jamie Harrison

Sofia Zuniga, 9, made jewlery and is now donating her profits to the pediatrics oncology unit./Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Nine-year-old Sofia Zuniga has a big imagination and an even bigger heart. In August of 2010, Sofia was having petit mal seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. During her many hospital visits, where she was required to stay in the bed for long periods of time, her grandmother Annette Lancaster bought her a jewelry-making kit to occupy her time.

Soon after, the self-proclaimed tomboy, who likes rock climbing and chasing lizards, busied herself by making one-of-a-kind jewelry. After making a number of necklaces, earrings and bracelets, Sofia created a display case on the door of her hospital room at Shands at UF and put herself in business. Her delicate and colorful jewelry began to catch the eye of the nurses and residents in the pediatric unit who offered to buy some of her pieces.

Photo by Maria Belen Farias

“Since she couldn’t leave her room, I bought her the jewelry kit to pass the time, but the donations were all her idea,” Lancaster said.

However, she didn’t keep all of her profits to herself. Sofia decided to donate a portion of her proceeds to the UF Shands Cancer Center to help children with cancer at UF.

“I did it just to be nice,” Sofia said.

It’s not the first time she has tried to help children with cancer. Prior to donating her jewelry earnings, she attempted to donate her hair to children who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy.

“She’s got a big heart, and she’s always giving,” Lancaster said.

When Sofia first started experiencing the seizures, her family wasn’t aware of what was happening.

“Her eyes kept rolling to the back of her head, and she was grinding her teeth together,” Lancaster said.

Now Sofia is doing better and doctors hope to eventually wean her off her medicine.

So far, the project she started in her hospital room has earned her about $100. She donated $75 of that to the UF pediatrics oncology fund, her grandmother said.

“She’s very creative and is always doing something with her hands, whether it’s making jewelry, sewing or drawing,” Lancaster said. “She’s a quiet, yet risk-taking child.”

Sofia also sells her creations to her teachers and peers at school. She even convinced her younger cousins to help her make the jewelry. She hopes to someday own her own jewelry stand similar to that of a traditional lemonade stand.

“It takes me four or five minutes to make earrings, for bracelets it depends on the size and not even one minute to make necklaces,” Sofia said. “My favorite piece of jewelry are bracelets because you can wear them longer and they don’t hurt your ear.”