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Doernbecher patients from Vancouver, Ridgefield design shoes for auction in partnership with Nike

Clark County youngsters among 6 selected for program

By , Columbian staff reporter
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Dario Villaseñor Valdivia, a 14-year-old from Vancouver, holds the shoe he designed with Nike through the Doernbecher Freestyle program.
Dario Villaseñor Valdivia, a 14-year-old from Vancouver, holds the shoe he designed with Nike through the Doernbecher Freestyle program. (OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital) Photo Gallery

The creativity of two Clark County residents living with serious health problems is getting the spotlight thanks to a collaboration between Nike and OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Dario Villaseñor Valdivia, a 14-year-old from Vancouver, and Kylee Young, a 12-year-old Ridgefield resident, were among six Doernbecher patients in the 18th annual Doernbecher Freestyle program.

On Friday, the six patient designers, their friends and families, and their design team gathered at the Portland Art Museum in preparation for an auction that raised $975,000 for the hospital, according to Doernbecher.

Dario designed a track suit and a pair of Nike Air Huaraches. His custom-designed collection is a mix of bright orange, because he loves eating oranges, and a brown furry material, a reference to a plush Chewbacca toy his sister bought him after a long hospital stay a few years ago.

Symbols along the shoe allude to some of Dario’s hobbies: a music note as an ode to his favorite band, the Gorillaz; a “play” button indicating his love for YouTube as a creator himself. Dario has his own channel, AtomicOrangez, where he creates animation videos and video game streams.

On the bottom of the right shoe is the word “siempre,” and “fuerte” is written on the bottom of the left. Siempre fuerte, or always strong, is Dario’s personal mantra.

“My parents always tell me that I’m always strong,” Dario said. “That I’ve always been strong and I’ll always be strong.”

Dario has juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia, and several years ago a bone marrow transplant to treat his leukemia resulted in severe lung disease as his body attacked the donor cells, according to a press release from Doernbecher.

He hopes his collection inspires others.

“Kids can also do good stuff and make shoes and survive illnesses,” Dario said.

First nonverbal participant

Kylee is the first ever nonverbal participant in the Doernbecher Freestyle program.

“People communicate differently and still have lots of opinions,” said Jill Brown, Kylee’s mom. “The design team at Nike has been really great to learn all her communication stuff.”

Working to design her shoe, Kylee indicated which color and design she wanted to the design team by using her electronic communication device.

“She just kept saying over and over with her device that she wanted patterns and she wanted flowers,” Brown said.

Kylee designed a pair of shoes, a sweatshirt and a hat. Each piece includes multiple shades of pink, Kylee’s favorite color, and some sort of floral design.

Musical notes serve as an ode to Taylor Swift, Kylee’s favorite musician, and raindrops and the sun serve to show her love for the outdoors.

The shoes also have a cookie symbol along with the word cookie on the back of both the shoes and the hat. One of Kylee’s nicknames is “cookie” because she served as a Girl Scout. Her other nickname, “Ky,” is incorporated into her collection in a flower on the front of the hat and the back of the sweatshirt.

Kylee first got sick at 2 years old. An infection caused her to go into kidney failure, followed by a bilateral stroke and other complications, according to Brown. At 3, Kylee received a kidney from her mom.

Kylee is a hemolytic uremic syndrome survivor, a condition that is often triggered by STEC infection and can lead to kidney failure, permanent health problems and even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kylee has been a patient at Doernbecher since she got sick 10 years ago.

A seventh-grader, Kylee plays drums in her school band, and her current favorite activity is learning to drive her wheelchair.

“Kylee is usually super happy and has the best smile and is very interactive and expressive with the world around her,” Brown said.

Both Dario and Kylee’s collection will be available for retail sale in early 2023. For more information about all six of this year’s patient designers, visit ohsufoundation.org/stories/meet-the-designers-doernbecher-freestyle-xviii/.

The partnership has generated around $33 million for Doernbecher over the past 18 years, with 100 percent of the retail profits given directly to the hospital.

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