Cousins make origami cranes for cancer patients

Their goal is to donate 1,000 to St. Joseph

  • Chad Fisher and cousin Max Schnitzer, both 12, are folding 1,000 origami paper cranes to donate to a cancer treatment center at St. Joseph Hospital. They have made over 800 so far. They started the project after reading about the Japanese folk lore that promises wellness with 1,000 cranes from a book titled "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes."
Chad Fisher and cousin Max Schnitzer, both 12, are folding 1,000… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
March 07, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Two 12-year-old cousins are turning multicolored squares of paper into symbols of hope for those facing critical illness.

Chad Fisher and Max Schnitzer have schooled themselves in the traditional Japanese art of origami, or paper folding. The boys, students at Pikesville Middle School, have promised to create 1,000 paper cranes for patients at St. Joseph Medical Center's Cancer Institute.

"Japanese folklore says if you fold 1,000 cranes, you will get your wish," said Chad, whose wish is that his mother will recover from breast cancer.

Although health regulations prevent the boys from interacting with patients, they have given Andrea Cooper, the hospital's artist in residence, cranes and labels for patients to attach notes to the paper birds.

"We want them to write their hopes and dreams on the cranes," said Max.

Cooper said she has seen firsthand how the simple gift "truly affects patients. This idea is taken seriously."

The messages that patients have affixed to the cranes include wishes for health, happiness, peace and love, she said. One patient wished for a child. Another wanted everyone to understand life is precious.

"One said, 'Live life one day at a time and enjoy each day,'" she said. "If anyone understands that statement, it is someone going through a life-altering experience like cancer."

Since Chad's mother was diagnosed, the boys said, they have some understanding of that experience. Chad took on the project to support his mother, Ray Ellen Fisher, who is still undergoing treatment, and Max wanted to help his cousin and aunt. There was a practical element, too.

"I didn't think I could do 1,000 by myself," Chad said.

Ray Ellen Fisher said she never wanted the focus of the project to be solely on her. She encouraged the boys, who often sit in the waiting room while she undergoes treatments, to make the cranes for all the patients at the center.

"This is not about me and my journey," she said. "It's about giving back to St. Joseph's and about the importance of community."

Chad said, "It was something to do while we were there. Now it's something to give people hope and let them know others are thinking about them."

Max added, "We are even teaching others."

Inspiration for the project started when they read "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes" by Eleanor Coerr, in their language arts class. The book details the story of a Japanese girl who survived Hiroshima and fashioned the cranes with a wish to survive leukemia. Sadako Sasaki was 12 when she died in 1955.

The legend says she was able to make only 644 cranes, but that her friends and family finished the task for her. A statue of Sadako holding a crane stands in Hiroshima Peace Park. A similar sculpture of the young girl is in Seattle Peace Park.

The crane symbolizes peace, long life and prosperity in Japanese culture. Paper replicas of the revered bird are popular gifts for newlyweds and newborns.

"This project is a lovely way to allow us to bring something venerated in one culture into our culture," said Cooper.

The two boys from Pikesville learned the 33 steps to crane folding and have been practicing origami ever since. Chad said he can fold and crease paper into a truly presentable crane, with head, wings and tail, in about two minutes. They both have become so adept that they can fold with distractions, like TV, and their own constant banter. They have made up comical nicknames for the various folds — "big man, big fox, skinny man, skinny fox and the pocket."

At last tally, kept electronically by Ray Ellen Fisher, the boys had reached 863 cranes. The Fishers have donated a glass display case to the cancer center, which will eventually be filled with cranes and a brief explanation of the project.

Chad and Max have no doubt that they will soon reach their goal, probably with a few dozen extra, just in case someone wants to take one home. They likely will not stop there, either. Mercy Medical Center has asked them to teach a few volunteers the art of origami.

"Once Chad gets an idea in mind, I know he will complete it," said Ray Ellen Fisher.

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