Project Sunshine first met Natima when she was only eight years old and recovering from heart transplant surgery. Today, Natima is a dedicated college student and proud Project Sunshine volunteer. Learn more about how Natima became part of the Project Sunshine family in our interview below.

Project Sunshine: What was it like growing up with a medical challenge?

Natima: I was born with a heart defect and had only one chamber in my heart, which made it very weak. I had to stop going to school at 6 years old, and I spent most of my childhood life in the hospital. I was not able to act like a kid and do what everyone else my age was doing. My favorite thing [school] was taken away, and I always had to be careful not to overly exert myself because of my heart. Although I am grateful for the transplant, it was also a time of sadness for me. I really just wanted to be a kid again.

Project Sunshine: When did you have your transplant surgery?

Natima: Almost thirteen years ago – January 27, 2006. I waited in the hospital for my heart for three months.

Project Sunshine: How did you feel when Project Sunshine volunteers arrived at the hospital?

Natima: I was in my bedroom at Columbia Hospital, and I remember that day I was very upset. I thought that it was finally my turn to get out of the hospital and go home but was told that I had to stay longer. Later that day, I was told some better news…Project Sunshine was visiting! It was so refreshing to have someone new come in and hang out with me and actually have some fun while I was in the hospital. Project Sunshine has been a source of happiness for me from that point on. When I was named “Miss Project Sunshine,” it took my breath away. I finally felt like I was a part of something for the first time in a long time. It is an amazing feeling to be a part of an organization that helps children and understands what children need while being treated for all kinds of medical challenges.

Project Sunshine: What’s the first thing you think of when you hear Project Sunshine?

Natima: The first word I think of is “sun.” Project Sunshine always knows exactly how to brighten a child’s day, spread happiness, and spread positive energy.

Project Sunshine: What would you tell your six year old self today?

Natima: I would tell myself to always keep smiling, keep positive thoughts, and hold onto faith.

Project Sunshine volunteer and former patient Natima volunteering and with her doctor and Project Sunshine Executive Director Whitney.

Natima volunteering over the years [left].  Natima at a recent Pediatric Heart Transplant Reunion program at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital with her cardiologist Dr. Addonizio and Project Sunshine’s Executive Director Whitney [right].