LAYTON -- On the wings of a thousand origami cranes float the well wishes of sixth-grade students for their friend.
Sixth-graders at Adams Elementary School spent weeks folding origami cranes of all sizes and colors for their friend, 12-year-old Shelia Rasa, who will have brain surgery Tuesday. The students gave the cranes and other special gifts to Shelia in a surprise ceremony Friday that featured plenty of smiles and hugs.
The cranes represent wishes for good health, according to Japanese legend.
Shelia was born with a double outlet right ventricle, or as her peers put it, only half of a heart. She had three open-heart surgeries before the age of 3 and has had several other surgeries since then.
As a result, she has limited use of her right hand, moves more slowly and is academically behind most children her age.
She also endures debilitating seizures every day; doctors hope this surgery will alleviate them.
Despite Shelia's physical limitations, the girl's positive attitude has inspired those around her.
"Everyone has learned from her to be positive and happy and look on the good side of everything," said classmate Ainsley Harvey.
"When I have a bad day, she lifts my spirits," said classmate Lauren Allen. "She's brought hope into our lives and changed our lives forever."
"She was born with only half a heart, but she has the biggest heart ever," said classmate Katie Marchese.
As part of their studies, Shelia and her classmates read a story from Japan called "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes."
The story is of Sadako, a young girl diagnosed with leukemia in the aftermath of World War II. Sadako learns of the legend that tells how 1,000 paper cranes will earn the maker one wish. She makes 664 of her own cranes and needs the help of family and friends to finish.
When Angela Steenblik, Shelia's best friend, heard the story, she decided to put it to use. She and the rest of her classmates began to fold paper cranes to give to Shelia before her surgery.
"I wanted to do this for her because I know how big this is for her," Angela said.
Shelia was told the cranes were for a school bulletin board, so she was able to make cranes with her friends.
Because Shelia has limited use of her dominant right hand, she had to fold them using just her left hand.
Classmates worked hard to thread the cranes to create a large chandelier-type display that Shelia can hang in her room.
They surprised her with the cranes at school Friday.
"It's good because I made this with all my friends," Shelia said. "I have a lot of friends here."
"The sixth grade has rallied around this little gal and participated beyond what I ever could have hoped," said Patricia Nielson, Shelia's teacher. "They have all learned great lessons from it, as have I."
As a result of her upcoming surgery, Shelia may temporarily lose some of her memory, as well as her ability to see, talk and walk.
Addison Christenson wanted to help her good friend remember, so she started a scrapbook to go along with the cranes.
Each student in the three sixth-grade classes wrote a special note to let Shelia know how much she means to them. It was all compiled in the large scrapbook.
"It's just amazing," said Peggy Wheeler, Shelia's mother. "You don't expect kids this age to be so caring. It is inspirational to me."
Principal Charollet Chambers remarked on the amazing impact Shelia has had on the entire sixth grade.
"The sixth-graders have become her protectors. We have taken (Shelia) into our hearts. They are great kids and great teachers."