Dreams do come true – just ask Monique Naranjo. For years the 9-year-old from Bakersfield has wanted to meet the teen pop sensation, Justin Bieber. Diagnosed with a rare congenital disorder in which she can’t walk and has trouble breathing, Monique’s desire was so strong it sustained her through difficult medical treatment.
“The thought of meeting him some day helped me,” said Monique. “And Justin says ‘Never give up,’ so I wasn’t going to, not even my dream to meet him!”
Generous donors make dream a reality
So when news hit that Bieber was coming to Fresno, Sophia Hill, Monique’s mother, tried everything she could to get tickets to the already sold-out performance on Oct. 5 at the Save Mart Center. Up until the day before the concert, she was still tweeting, posting requests on Facebook, traveling to different radio stations and entering contests to win the coveted seats.
“I couldn’t let Justin Bieber be this close and not have my daughter see him,” she said. “Monique has almost died and he has no idea what an inspiration he’s been for her.”
But just as Hill began to think she wouldn’t succeed, she received a call from Children’s Hospital Central California, where Monique has been an inpatient on multiple occasions and receives ongoing treatment. Thanks to Yuniva Verdugo and Temo Dominguez, Monique and her mom learned they were going to the concert. “I couldn’t believe it!” said Monique of the tickets the couple donated. “I was so excited!”
But that’s not all. After Children’s Hospital public relations manager, Jill Wagner, posted on her personal Facebook page that Monique would attend the event, backstage passes were needed next. Jane Quebe stepped up by arranging passes for both Monique and her mom.
“We’re so thankful to everyone – Children’s Hospital, the ticket donors, our family…” said Hill. “It was an experience of a lifetime!”
Meeting ‘The Bieb’
Through one of Bieber’s representatives, Monique gave Bieber a copy of “Valley Treasures: Children’s Hospital 2012 Story Album,” an annual compilation of patient stories that features Monique’s own journey and her desire to meet Bieber. She also made Bieber a beaded necklace and bracelet, neatly tucked into an envelope inside the book.
The first in line to greet Bieber backstage, the mother and daughter had only seconds with the megastar. “He was so nice – and cute!” said Monique, whose mom inscribed the worldwide phenomenon’s name in glittery letters on the back of Monique’s Bieber T-shirt. “It was like a dream, so surreal.” She also heard Bieber say three words she’ll never forget as she and her mom were ushered out: “I love you!”
The entire exchange happened so quickly, Monique was unable to ask the teen idol the very important question she practiced repeatedly: “Will you marry me?” She also was unable to get Bieber to sign her own copy of “Story Album.” “I knew we couldn’t leave without that!” said Hill.
Upon seeing Scooter Braun, who discovered Bieber on You Tube in 2008 and later became his manager, Hill asked him if he would do the honors. “A little later he came back with Justin’s signature on Monique’s story page!” she said.
Hill believed this day would come but didn’t know when. During the concert, one song in particular touched her heart. “When Justin sang, ‘One Less Lonely Girl,’ I always thought that would be my daughter, you know?” she said. “And I realized where we were – and I cried.”
A powerful dream
Bieber couldn’t ask for a bigger fan than Monique. Diagnosed with congenital arthrogryposis, characterized by multiple joint contractures throughout her body, her frail body is essentially folded in half. She also has associated restrictive lung disease, severe scoliosis and failure to thrive, meaning her physical growth is significantly less than her peers.
Last year during a visit to Children’s Hospital emergency department, Monique’s wish to meet the pop star inspired her to undergo invasive procedures expected to prolong and improve her life. “She was giving up and didn’t want the doctors to do what they needed to do,” said Hill. “Her dad and I told her she needs to get better, to not give up, so she can meet Justin Bieber. After that she started to get better.”
“Because I believed you!” said Monique sweetly shortly after undergoing a tracheostomy during what became a two-month stay at Children’s. The little girl’s hospital room at the time clearly showed her admiration for Bieber. His name and image were plastered everywhere – from the T-shirt she wore, to the CDs, DVD movies and wall posters. Bieber’s likeness with his trademark haircut even scrolled across her handheld Nintendo DSi.
An extra special poster entitled “Never Say Never” hung behind her bed. Depicting Bieber’s documentary about his life, it read: “Find out what’s possible when you never give up.”
Dr. Aaron Reitman, then a resident physician at Children’s who knows Jon Chu, director of “Never Say Never,” made a call and the poster was shipped overnight to Monique. Monique took that same poster to Bieber’s concert, and decorated the back of it with Bieber photos. Dr. Reitman also gave her a pair of purple 3D glasses from the “Never Say Never” premiere.
Dr. Reddivalam Sudhakar, medical director, pediatric pulmonology at Children’s, emphasized the value of patients having goals and activities. “People like Monique who have things they enjoy tend not to get depressed,” said Dr. Sudhakar. “Depressed people give up. The non-depressed have a better immune system.”
Now a believer
Asked if achieving her goal of meeting Bieber so quickly surprised her, Monique said, “Oh yes – I thought it wouldn’t happen until I was at least 14!”
But while Hill and her daughter feel a sense of accomplishment, Hill would like to spread the word more about how Bieber has impacted young lives like Monique’s. “I think he’s a great guy, with good character,” said Hill. “I like what he’s about and think he really believes and does what he says.”
Monique is a believer, too. “I know it’s possible if you never give up!” she exclaimed.