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Becoming the Best Version of Me

Gianna and Juan Diego proudly take on the roles of International Patient Ambassadors.

International Patient Ambassadors share their messages of resilience and life-changing care

Every journalist knows if you want the scoop, go right to the source. And there is no better way to get the lowdown on Shriners Children’s than to hear it from the patients themselves. Each year thousands of young children and teens receive transformative care at one of the healthcare system’s premier locations. Walk through the halls at any of these facilities across the U.S., in Mexico or Canada, and you will be captivated by countless stories of patients thriving after treatment. You’ll hear about that special something that sets Shriners Children’s apart. 

Each year, Shriners Children’s selects two International Patient Ambassadors who carry these messages of care that embraces the whole family. They help showcase successful outcomes and illustrate how Shriners Children’s patients gain the confidence to overcome adversity and pursue their dreams. The ambassadors are introduced in July at Imperial Session, an annual convention that brings together Shriners from all over the world. 

These resilient and inspirational patients represent the healthcare system at signature events throughout the year, including collegiate and professional sporting events and the most widely televised parade in the world, the Tournament of Roses Parade. This July, the 2023–2024 International Patient Ambassadors, Gianna and Juan Diego, took the stage to share their gratitude and excitement about the year ahead.

Meet Gianna


Gianna was born with a rare condition called proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD), which caused her to be missing part of her left femur. Her parents knew they had to find the right specialized care for their daughter and were grateful to learn that the orthopedic team at Shriners Children’s Southern California had the expertise to treat PFFD. 

Gianna’s left leg was shorter than her right one, and she had hip malformations and other congenital deficiencies in her left leg, said Robert Cho, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon and chief of staff at Shriners Children’s Southern California. “Gianna did not have a functional knee joint, and she had a nonfunctioning foot that was pointed inward. It would have been essentially impossible for her to walk without amputating and giving her a prosthesis,” Dr. Cho said. 

Gianna had her first visit at Shriners Children’s when she was 3 months old, and at 9 months, she received her first prosthesis. As she grew older, she became aware of her physical differences and at times struggled with her self-image. The prosthetics and rehabilitation teams worked with Gianna to teach her how to adapt and build the skills and confidence to meet her physical challenges. “My Shriners Children’s family taught me to never let my leg hold me back from being the best version of myself,” she said. 

Gianna’s father was so impressed with the care his daughter received, he was inspired to become a Shriner and currently serves as chairman of the Board of Governors at Shriners Children’s Southern California. 

Now Gianna, 15, is an active high school student who is both an artist and an athlete. She especially loves football and dreams of working for the NFL someday. Dr. Cho has every confidence that with her drive and spirit, Gianna can achieve whatever she sets her mind to.

Meet Juan Diego

Juan Diego

Juan Diego, 19, was burned in an electrical accident at his home in Honduras when he was 13. His hands were seriously injured, and he was completely dependent on others for even the most basic tasks. He could not take care of himself, go to school, or draw or play music – two of his passions. 

The Ruth Paz Foundation, a non-profit organization in Honduras devoted to providing quality medical services to children, learned about Juan Diego’s burn injury and connected him with Shriners Children’s. Four months after his injury, he arrived at Shriners Children’s Boston. Some of his burn wounds were still open, requiring immediate attention from the acute burn team. 

During his 2 1/2 months in Boston in 2018, much of Juan Diego’s treatment involved intensive physical and occupational therapy. Occupational therapist Courtney Updegrove fabricated customized splints for his hands, enabling Juan Diego to relearn how to care for himself. He was even able to draw and play the drums again. Juan Diego approached every treatment and every obstacle with a positive attitude. 

Juan Diego’s care also included reconstructive treatment, through which Joseph Upton, M.D., a plastic surgeon hand specialist, restored sensation and mobility in Juan Diego’s hands. Dr. Upton was able to take tissue from another part of Juan Diego’s body and build a web space between his thumb and index finger. Juan Diego continues to come to Shriners Children’s Boston for reconstructive and laser surgeries. 

Now a college student in Honduras studying international relations, Juan Diego is honored to represent Shriners Children’s as an International Patient Ambassador. “I want to put into action all of the gratitude I have for Shriners Children’s,” he said. “I hope my story brings inspiration and hope to others.”

Watch it: No Boundaries: The Stories of Gianna and Juan Diego highlights the remarkable journeys of our 2023–2024 International Patient Ambassadors.