2022 Honored Patient: Yonel
It was the spring of 2021. Nine-year-old Yonel, of St. Paul, Minn., had been sick for 3 weeks with multiple fevers, pale skin, vomiting and bruising. Thinking it might be COVID, he was taken to Urgent Care and diagnosed with strep throat. Relieved it was only that, Yonel’s parents - Amparo and Aaron - were looking forward to getting past this and having their little boy feel better once again. Unfortunately, he did not get any better, and was soon taken back to Urgent Care for further evaluation. This time, the doctors said he had influenza. Again relieved, Amparo and Aaron looked for a quick recovery after pinpointing the problem.
Then on March 26, Yonel could not get dressed or walk, causing them to quickly hop in the car for a third trip to Urgent Care. Praying the third time would be the charm, the doctors noticed something was seriously not right with his blood work. They immediately directed Yonel and his family to Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis where he was finally diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia B-cell.
“It was definitely an eye opener,” Amparo said. “This is something you never prepare for. Yonel was the kid who never got sick, always positive, and for him to be diagnosed with cancer was something very surprising and hard. There was a whole plate of emotions for him, and for us as a family.”
Once Yonel was first diagnosed, he immediately started a chemotherapy regimen. The hospital also had a physical therapist come to his room to discuss the different side effects that come with chemotherapy and how it affects the body. He soon began a physical therapy program, and educated our family on how Yonel would be affected. They taught us how we could help reduce little things such as bone aches and tightness, as well as monitor the amount of exercise he was doing.
“As a parent, you never realize how much these medications can debilitate their body to the point where they can’t walk, are crawling, or can’t help themselves up off the bed.” Amparo said. “The physical therapists helped encourage Yonel to constantly move his body to avoid cramping and stiffness after sitting idle for hours on end during the day.”
As part of physical therapy, Yonel and the family received a set of orthotics courtesy of the funds raised by the Pine Tree Apple Tennis Classic each year. Although clunky and difficult to put on and take off at the beginning, the orthotics soon gave him strength, confidence and balance so he could walk and slowly even start jogging. Yonel mastered putting on his orthotics as well as removing them!
“There were days the orthotics seemed like such a burden to not only him, but to me as well,” Amparo said. “Yonel would always remind me that not many in his situation can even walk so we must be mindful and appreciative for the blessing of the orthotics being donated to us and the huge difference they were making.”
Yonel is in the maintenance portion of his journey. He goes to the clinic once a month and is receiving on-going treatment with three different medications to make sure his cancer does not return. Recently, it was discovered that one of Yonel’s chemo medications inflamed his liver and affected its functioning so he has reduced his chemo at home to half a dose each day. He also undergoes spinal taps on a regular basis and continues to do physical therapy to maintain the strength in his legs, regain his range of motion and assist with his balance and coordination.
“All the doctors and therapists at Children’s Minnesota are experts in their field. Along with being caring and empathetic with the patients, they are smart, diligent and understanding. These are young kids who don’t know their feelings, or how to express them throughout their journey, but these specialists are always understanding and supportive of them and their families.”
Cancer is hard on everyone. As a parent when you hear your child has leukemia, you think of the worst, but Yonel and his family have bonded together and have learned to take it day-by-day, seeing the positives in the journey.
“Yonel was the one feeling the pain and needing transfusions, but he was - and still remains - positive,” Amparo said. “Although there were nights where he would cry and let me know his worries and fears, we all stayed strong and remained resilient. We have such great faith in him and his journey, and are grateful for everything we are given - especially his health. Yonel has come so far and has healed drastically thanks to the wonderful staff at Children’s Minnesota.”
In just a few weeks, Yonel will be a sixth grader at St Pascal’s. Like any typical 10-year-old, he loves to read, draw, play video games and go to the park with his sisters Yamile, Yanise and Yoselyn. Yonel was also part of his school’s running club last year, and plans to participate again this coming fall.
“Thanks to the researchers, doctors, nurses, and physical therapists who research, assist and experiment with young children like Yonel, they are able to provide better innovations and resources to younger cancer patients. We are so grateful, and have so much love for all the staff at Children's Hospital!”