When 9-year-old Oscar Sauceda, of Oregon, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia earlier this year, doctors said he’d need a bone marrow transplant to survive.
A search began to locate a bone marrow donor to help the Coy Elementary student and, without a match from a family member, Oscar’s parents, Jessica and Salomen Villegas, knew they might have to rely on the kindness of a stranger to help their little boy.
Through the National Marrow Donor Program, a near-perfect match has been found and Oscar is scheduled to travel to the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland later this month for a transplant.
Throughout the rounds of chemo and radiation and frequent trips to the hospital, the family has remained strong and hopeful, their spirits buoyed in part by an outpouring of support from the community, including many people who were strangers to them just months ago.
A small group of friends and supporters who call themselves “Oscar’s Angels” is mobilizing to help the Villegas family during Oscar’s treatment and recovery.
One of those “angels,” Connie Koch (pronounced Cook), first heard about Oscar when her son Noah transferred to Coy Elementary in February.
Then in March, in celebration of her 40 th birthday, Koch decided to embark on an effort to complete “40 days of Random Acts of Kindness.” She sent an e-mail to everyone she knew telling them what she was doing and one of the teachers at Coy e-mailed her to tell her about the young student who was battling leukemia who would surely appreciate an act of kindness.
“This was the second time I had heard about Oscar,” Koch said. “My initial contact with the family was with Oscar’s grandmother Daisy, who works at a local business.”
Koch, faces her own daily medical challenges and may need a heart transplant herself, empathized with what the family was going through.
“I thought it was `meant to be’ that I help them, so that’s what I did,” she said.
Throughout the past months, she has struck up a friendship with Jessica Villegas, whom she describes as an “amazingly strong” young woman who is humble and shy.
A whirlwind journey
“On June 19, Jessica called me from Toledo Children’s Hospital where Oscar receives his treatments,” Koch said. “She was so excited to tell me Oscar’s wish to go to Disney World had been granted by the local Make-A-Wish organization.”
By June 23, most major arrangements for the Disney trip were in place, but there was a major problem – Gramma Daisy had not been included in the arrangements.
“Oscar needs almost constant one-on-one care,” Koch said. “Despite being an important part of the family, Gramma Daisy also provides much-needed help.”
With Jessica Villegas’ permission, Koch contacted the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwest Ohio program manager to see if it would be possible to include Daisy in their arrangements.
“They said if Daisy could cover her own flight arrangements and food costs as well as park ticket costs and spending money, they could cover transportation to and from the airports as well as her hotel accommodations,” Koch said.
Koch put a call out to members of Oregon City council and Mayor Marge Brown, telling Oscar’s story at the June 23 council meeting.
“I also put calls out to local businesses and individuals that I am familiar with, telling the family’s story and asking for help covering Gramma Daisy’s expenses to get her on this trip,” she said.
In three short days, enough money had been raised to cover the flight, food and expenses.
Koch noted that those who contributed to the collection of funds included City of Oregon employees, employees of Eggleston-Meinert-Pavley Funeral Home; local business owners Dorothy Damschroder, Pat Slygh and Mike Fioritto, the Oregon/East Toledo Kiwanis and an employee of BP Oregon Refinery. Daisy’s co-workers also collected money.
“A special thanks goes to Oregon resident and community leader Larry Schaeffer for his help in raising funds for the cause,” Koch said.
She also credited Oregon Wal-Mart’s general manager Bill Murray, who approved the donation of two three-piece luggage sets for the Villegas family. “Oregon Police Sgt. Tony Castillo also donated luggage,” Koch said. “I also had one local businessman contact me to donate five one-day Disney park passes for Daisy to use.”
“The Oregon community pulled together amazingly well and so quickly that within three days, we were able to tell Oscar that his grandma as going on the trip with him,” Koch said. “This made Oscar’s wish even more special knowing that his entire family was going on the trip to Disney.”
On June 30, Oscar and his family departed for Disney in style – in an expansive limo bus that came to their home to take them to the airport. While in Florida, the family stayed at Disney’s Saratoga Springs resort, spent time at the Magic Kingdom, at Animal Kingdom, Epcot Center, MGM, Universal Studios and Sea World. They also had visiting privileges at Give Kids the World Resort, the Disney resort specially dedicated to Make-A-Wish kids and their families.
They returned July 6 and immediately afterward, Oscar and his mom left for the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland for pre-transplant procedures. On July 17, the trio will head to Cleveland again for the bone marrow transplant.
“They are expected to be at the hospital for six weeks or more following the transplant,” Koch said.
Stocking the freezer
“It’s been very stressful for them,” Koch said, adding that Oscar’s Angels are looking for ways to help the Villegas family in the weeks and months ahead.
Currently, a “Stock the Shelves Fill the Freezer” drive is being organized to help provide meals for the Villegas family beginning the week of July 14.
“We are asking church groups to consider making a meal for the family or purchase items that can be put in the freezer for easy preparation,” Koch said.
Donations of non-perishable or freezer items, as well as home-cooked meals or homegrown fruits and vegetables will be welcome. Grocery store gift cards will also be accepted.
To become one of “Oscar’s Angels” or to learn about other opportunities to help, call 419-693-1774.
In addition, donations may be made to “Oscar’s Fund” at any Huntington bank, including the Starr & Main Branch in East Toledo; at 3351 Navarre Ave. in Oregon (in front of Kroger); and at 2550 Woodville Rd., Northwood, in front of the Great Eastern Shopping Center.