Why Shriners: Arm Difference
Born with a right arm that did not extend below the elbow, Tal Oppenheimer faced a childhood of frequent medical appointments. But she reflects on all those visits to Shriners Hospital for Children — Northern California fondly and with much appreciation.
“I always loved going to Shriners Hospital,” the 26-year-old Google product manager says. “As I was growing up, fittings for new arms often entailed going to the hospital regularly. I would return from a missed day at school and excitedly recount my previous day to friends. Curious as to why I enjoyed going to see doctors, a couple of friends joined me one time. After experiencing Shriners Hospital — from the stickers to the toys to the joyful atmosphere and palpable kindness — they quickly understood. They actually envied me.”
A Bay Area native, Oppenheimer received her first prostheses at the old Shriners Hospital in San Francisco. She grew up with Shriners and “moved” to Sacramento, just as all the hospital doctors, nurses and staff did in 1997.
Until very recently, I couldn’t remember a part of my life when I wasn’t a Shriners’ patient,” Oppenheimer says. ” ‘Graduating’ from Shriners was difficult for me; everyone there was like a second family.”
She has stayed involved with the Northern California Shriners Hospital, joining the planning committee for Camp Winning Hands and serving as a counselor at the summer camp for children with hand differences.
Her own success story, as a student as well as a patient, makes all her Shriner caregivers proud. A graduate of Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, she earned a B.A. in neurobiology at Harvard while minoring in computer science.
“I learned I can overcome a physical handicap at Shriners, and the determination I saw in people there helped me gain the confidence to come up with creative solutions to the challenges that confronted me in other areas of life as I grew older.”