CHULA VISTA, Calif. — It was a special Sweet 16 for Meliena Bent, who has been living at the Helen Bernardy Center for Medically Fragile Children at Rady Children Hospital for the last five years.  

With the help of paramedics from American Medical Response (AMR), the teen was able to celebrate her birthday on Saturday at home surrounded by family and friends — the first time she has been able to do since before the pandemic.

As the ambulance arrived with Meliena, AMR workers played “Happy Birthday” over their intercom to announce her arrival at the party. Her carriage was decked out with decorations for the birthday girl’s big day.

“I have no words right now … Sweet 16 means the world to me right now,” Meliena’s father, William Bent III, said of her homecoming. “I get to see her and she looks good, I’m crying.”

“She beat all the odds, and she’s tough. She’s strong — strong-willed,” he added. 

Meliena’s parents know their daughter is a fighter. She has epilepsy and cerebral palsy — a condition that is made up of is group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move, maintain balance and posture, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“She’s very special and she has a special place in everyone’s heart,” Meliena’s mother, Janess Ruiz added. “She may not talk or communicate, but just to have Meliena’s presence is definitely a blessing for everybody.”  

At just five weeks old, Ruiz and Bent III said Meliena had three strokes and was given a painfully short life expectancy.

“For her to be able to be here still and be able to pretty much (breathe without an) oxygen (tank), and able for her to just be able to live, I’m very happy,” Ruiz said.

In 2018, Ruiz said her daughter also developed dysautonomia — a condition that makes it difficult for a person to regulate their own nervous system, impacting things like one’s as body temperature and heart rate.  

“When it was getting to that point and I had her at home, I couldn’t keep her stable, that’s when I just knew,” Ruiz said. “I needed 24-hour care for her.”

Meliena landed at Helen Bernardy Center for Medically Fragile Children at Rady Children’s Hospital, where she has been for the past five years getting round-the-clock care.  

The center partnered with AMR to give Meliena a lift home to celebrate her special day surrounded by family, friends, her schoolteachers and even her nurses. 

“Just because she is special needs doesn’t mean she can’t be wearing makeup and be a princess and enjoy her day,” Ruiz said. “I just wanted it to be … as much as we can give to her on her Sweet 16, just like any other child.”

“You can never count anybody out, everybody has strong wills. My daughter is living proof of that,” Bent said. “She is 16 and she is still here — she’s still ticking, and she’s still fighting.”

“I used to think I was tough, but she’s the toughest little kid I’ve ever known, ever,” he continued, “Tougher than anybody.”