The indomitable Diego Jiminez with his mother
Ever since he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma
, a type of bone cancer, 15-year-old Diego Jiminez and his mother Karla have been making the four-hour train and bus commute to City of Hope's Duarte, California, campus from their Visalia home, a distance of more than 200 miles.
Leaving at dawn for early-morning appointments, they were often getting home at midnight or later. As Diego's disease and treatment progressed, public transportation became increasingly uncomfortable for him.
“I was getting up at 5 a.m. to go to the bus station and my mom came with me,” Diego said. “My dad needed our one car for work and so he could take my siblings to school. It took two bus transfers and sometimes a train, but we got here.”
Thanks to a resourceful City of Hope social worker, a determined physician and a compassionate community, those long days on the bus are over. The Jiminez family recently was gifted a pristine, newly inspected 2013 black Hyundai Sonata from the nonprofit organization Megan’s Wings
, in partnership with the Recycled Rides
program. Mechanics from Caliber Collision volunteered their time to make sure the car was in mint condition when presented to Diego and his family.
Megan’s Wings was established in memory of Megan Savage, who died of leukemia at the age of 9. The organization provides services for families of children with cancer. It was City of Hope’s Lindsey Cervantes, a social worker, who reached out to Megan’s Wings, thinking they might be able to help.
“I have been part of Diego’s integrated care team since his first appointment, so I knew there were transportation challenges,” Cervantes said. “The family never complained about anything. They never asked for any kind of assistance. They made the best of what they had and were determined to get Diego treated no matter what."
Megan’s Wings offered to pay for the first six months of insurance for the Hyundai, but Diego’s mom and dad declined, saying “the car was blessing enough.”
Judith Sato, M.D.
Diego came to City of Hope as a patient of pediatric oncologist Judith Sato, M.D.
, director of the Musculoskeletal Tumor Program
. Diego presented with an infection in his leg and a huge tumor below his right knee, Sato said. He originally sought treatment at Children’s Medical Center of Fresno, but it soon was determined that he needed a specialist.
“He has a rare form of osteosarcoma
,” Sato said. “It bleeds. That’s not common. You have to be ready for this and know what you are doing, and we are. We have an amazing team here. We have the expertise, the specialists, so we were successful. It takes a village to cure cancer.”
Not long ago, this condition surely would have required an amputation, but Sato was able to save Diego’s leg and then schedule his physical therapy and chemotherapy.
I’m more worried about my mom and dad being sad than about me having cancer. I don’t want them to feel bad. I told them that God gives his biggest challenges to his bravest warriors." - Diego Jiminez, age 15
When the family learned that they would be receiving the vehicle, Cervantes said they were humbled and grateful.
“Diego was so selfless, in spite of his situation,” Cervantes said. “He wanted nothing for himself. When we asked him, he only mentioned restaurant gift cards so his mother wouldn’t have to make dinner after traveling all day. He asked for Auto Zone gift cards so his dad could fix the family’s existing car. What we were able to do exceeded that.”
It’ll be a few months before Diego can return to school, but when he’s healthy again, he plans to get his driver's permit. Right now, he’s more concerned for his parents than himself.
“I’m more worried about my mom and dad being sad than about me having cancer,” he said. “I don’t want them to feel bad. I told them that God gives his biggest challenges to his bravest warriors.”
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