A Sister’s Love Stops Hate

A Sister’s Love Stops Hate

snow on a heart sculpture outside RMHIn 2016, Bowen Zhang and her family stayed at the Cleveland Ronald McDonald House following the birth of Bowen’s sister Khloe. Khloe was born prematurely and spent the first few weeks of her life in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Bowen was 12 at the time and remembers feeling scared while visiting her sister in the hospital, and more relaxed and at home while staying at Ronald McDonald House with her parents.

It was also the holiday season, and Bowen has fond memories of fun activities with other families. Most importantly, staying at the House allowed the Zhangs to stay together while the NICU team cared for the complex medical needs of the newest addition to their family.

Khloe Zhang’s challenges didn’t end when she was released from the NICU. Like many children who are born early, Khloe has issues related to prematurity. Although she is now a mostly healthy four-year-old, who Bowen describes as having a “goofy and bubbly personality,” there are outwardly visible signs that she is different from other children.

three photos of Bowen, Khloe and mother reading cards
Khloe, aged four, and her mother (right) look at cards created by her sister Bowen (bottom left)

Khloe uses a gastric tube to consume nutrition and wears a hearing aide on one of her ears which did not form correctly prior to her birth. The reactions from others that Bowen often hears or sees when she is out with her sister inspired her to write an essay that received an honorable mention in the annual Stop the Hate contest, sponsored by the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

My sister is my best friend, and it is indescribably hard to witness these insensitive comments and appalled stares directed at someone that I love so much.

Bowen Zhang

Bowen began her essay describing the pain she felt when another child refused to play with Khloe because of her appearance. “After reflecting on my own experiences,” she continued, “I realized that I also once felt hate towards Khloe. When I first met her at the NICU, my emotions were mixed; I was excited to see her but I also had a lingering thought in my head. Why couldn’t I have a sister who was normal?”

Bowen’s openness and honesty about her own feelings towards her sister are what make her essay so remarkable. She recognizes that hatred and fear of those who are different from ourselves stems from ignorance and our own implicit biases, and she holds a mirror up to her own face before asking others to do the same.

Bowen Zhang dropping off handmade cards and wish list donations

As the sibling of a child with special needs Bowen has a voice and a platform to make a difference and, although she is only 16, she is not waiting until adulthood to begin effecting change! She volunteers and uses her artistic talents to raise awareness and funds for organizations that support families in situations like the ones her family has experienced. She has helped to collect Wish List items and led her high school’s Art Design Club in hand-crafting holiday/New Year’s cards for families at children’s hospitals and the Ronald McDonald House. And, her prize-winning essay included a grant that will be used for anti-bias education at her school, Beachwood High. Bowen’s ultimate goal is to become a biomedical engineer so that she can develop inventions that will help children like her sister.

Bowen Zhang’s essay is now available on RedTreehouse.org, the Ronald McDonald Family Resource Link. It is also featured in our latest helpful guide focusing on resources that are available to support and empower the siblings of children with special needs and other medical challenges.