With her big, brown eyes and big, bald head, Yareli Lopez-Martinez crawls around her Chandler living room, playing with her older cousin and brother.
It’s one of the rare occasions the 21-month-old has been home since August. She’s been in and out of the hospital since she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer with a high propensity to spread throughout the body, said her doctor, Michael Graham, director of pediatric bone marrow transplant at University Medical Center in Tucson.
When Yareli’s cancer was diagnosed, it had already spread to several places. Despite several rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments, the cancer continued to grow. However, a bone marrow transplant could be the answer, Graham said.
“We’re hoping for one really potent treatment with the bone marrow transplant,” Graham said. “We feel that this might actually offer a chance of getting rid of it permanently.”
Graham wants to start the transplant procedure in the next few days, but the family’s insurance, Arizona Heath Care Cost Containment System, has denied Yareli the coverage for this expensive procedure.
Positive Impact, a local nonprofit group that helps families in crisis, is working with the family and the community to raise the $100,000 needed for the transplant, said Rhonda Christenson, director of community relations for Positive Impact.
“If she doesn’t get admitted in the next couple of weeks, it’s not good,” Christenson said. “The hospital won’t admit her without the full amount up front.”
The organization has collected about $62,000 so far, and is urging the community to help out. The family has held car washes and yard sales and put donation containers in a few Chandler grocery stores. Hartford Elementary School, where Yareli’s 6-year-old brother, Jonathan, is in kindergarten, has also helped out, said Yareli’s mom, Ivonne Martinez.
“Please help us. Yareli is a very happy girl and she deserves to live because she’s been through so much,” said Martinez, 28, a stay-at-home mom who speaks mainly Spanish. Angelica Martinez translated for her sister.
The cancer diagnosis has been hard on the family. Ivonne Martinez has traveled with her daughter to Tucson four times for various treatments. Yareli’s dad, Jose Lopez, stays home to work as a prep cook at Pei Wei Asian Diner in Gilbert. (The company donated $15,000 for the transplant, Christenson said.)
“You always get up in the morning thinking what’s going to happen to her,” Martinez said. “The cancer controls our lives.”
Oblivious to the conversation around her, Yareli continued to crawl around on the floor, playing on a big, plastic car and snuggling with her bottle and blanket.
“One moment she’s fine, and then she gets sick again,” Angelica Martinez said. “She deserves another chance.”
How to help Yareli
To help Yareli Lopez-Martinez get her bone marrow transplant, call (602) 703-2828, send a check to Positive Impact, c/o Yareli, P.O. Box 8048, Chandler, AZ 85246, or visit www.positiveimpactinc.org.