This July, Aaron Yniguez will be celebrating his ninth birthday, an ordinary celebration turned extraordinary because he is a cancer survivor — one of an estimated 380,000 pediatric cancer survivors in the United States.
While Aaron is now a courageous and energetic first grader who loves to sing and play video games, that wasn’t always the case.
Aaron had just started kindergarten in 2012 when a rash appeared on both of his legs. His parents, Teresa and David Yniguez, took him to the doctor when over-the-counter medications didn’t seem to help.
What his doctor initially thought was strep throat or a common virus, was soon diagnosed as acute myeloid leukemia — the second-most common form of leukemia in children.
In this type of cancer, which can worsen quickly if untreated, the bone marrow produces a large number of abnormal blood cells. Two rounds of chemotherapy put Aaron’s cancer into remission, but to ensure the cancer wouldn’t return, he needed something more: a bone marrow transplant.
These lifesaving procedures use bone marrow, stem cells or umbilical cord blood cells to replace a patient’s faulty cells, which are critical to a healthy and functioning immune system.
Each year, thousands of hematology patients rely on the generosity of anonymous donors to provide the cells they need for transplantation, as family members are not always a match.
When the Yniguezes couldn’t find a match within their family, they looked to Be the Match, a national bone marrow registry, to help them find a suitable donor.
But before beginning treatment, Teresa and David decided to take family photos with Aaron and their daughter Sofia.
“I wanted one last family picture in case he didn’t make it,” said Teresa. “We bought every single photo because I didn’t know if it was going to be our last.”
Luckily, two months into his search, a match was found, and on May 31, 2013, Aaron received a lifesaving bone marrow transplant from a stranger in Arlington, Texas.
And it worked.
Now, three years later, Aaron and his family will finally be able to meet and thank his donor at City of Hope’s 26th Celebrity Softball Game on June 7, in Nashville, Tennessee.
The annual game, which regularly features some of country music’s biggest stars, has raised well over $2 million benefiting City of Hope’s lifesaving mission. No doubt the heartfelt meeting between Aaron and his donor will be a major event highlight.
The first words Teresa will share with the stranger from Texas?
“Thank you. Thank you for saving my son’s life.”
Learn more about the 26th Annual Celebrity Softball Game and how to purchase tickets on the event website.
Andrew Artz, M.D., M.S., who has dedicated his career to helping older adults with diseases such as leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome,
provides information about what older patients should know going into treatment and what they and their families can do to cope.
City of Hope Rose Parade float rider president Ivan Garcia-Burgos was 21 years old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer that hinders the body’s ability to fight infection.
At 14, City of Hope patient Nicole Schulz was a girl on the go, and even acute myeloid leukemia couldn’t stop her. Now she's facing a new challenge - the side effects of her lifesaving treatment. We have made progress using survivorship research insights to modify treatment plans and reduce side effects — but there’s more work to be done. This #GivingTuesday, help give patients like Nicole a second chance.