March 14, 2018
By Claudia Salazar
Last October, at a hospital in Guatemala City, my then 16-year-old son, Pablo, was told he had 24 hours to leave our country and receive leukemia treatment abroad, or he would be so sick from his chemotherapy drugs that he would be unable to fly. I quickly packed two suitcases and we said a tearful goodbye to our family. We were off to Toronto for lifesaving treatment that can’t be found in Guatemala.
Cut to three weeks later and Pablo and I have been living in his hospital room for nearly a month. We’ve just been told that Pablo needs a bone marrow transplant, and we can go home to wait for the procedure. The problem is: Toronto is not our home.
Over the past few weeks, I had been told I could get a room at Ronald McDonald House, but I hadn’t done so because I felt like other families needed it more. Now we were asked to leave the hospital and had nowhere to go. I can’t describe the relief I felt when we were told we there was room for us at the House.
We moved into Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto and felt immediately at home. All of the amenities, all of the smiles, all of the support - the House has helped us heal in so many ways. Especially for someone like Pablo, who has been through so much trauma.
In his last year of high school, Pablo has been taken away from his school, his friends, his country and even his dog. He’s been pulled out like a carrot and planted somewhere else. He doesn’t express much, but it has to be scary for him to see his parents’ faces worried sick and to hear doctors whisper about him. Despite it all, he’s been very brave.
Things began to look up for Pablo when he got an extraordinary 17th
birthday present on December 1: news that his older brother, Gabriel, was a perfect match to be his bone marrow donor! This meant that his bone marrow transplant could proceed and that one of his best friends was coming to stay with him.
Gabriel arrived in Toronto on December 7. We had left Guatemala in such a state of crisis that everyone said goodbye to Pablo not knowing when they would see him again. So it was very emotional when my boys were reunited. Not only because they were together again, but because their reunion represents Pablo’s path to wellness.
Pablo is now recovering from his bone marrow transplant at the House. We will have to be here for at least 100 days post-transplant, and so far he seems to be doing well. My boys love it here because it’s spacious and relaxing. They use the Wi-Fi to play Playstation with their friends back home and enjoy how central the House is so we can go for walks downtown. My husband has come to visit a couple of times, and my daughter will join us here when she’s done school in May.
My hope for Pablo is that his treatment goes well and that this is just one small chapter in his book of life. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know how grateful we are for RMHC Toronto. When you open a fridge here and see milk someone donated, that is a blessing. When you come downstairs to a freshly cleaned kitchen, that is a blessing. To feel the support of other families, staff and volunteers, that is a blessing.
No family should have to go through what we have, but when they do, RMHC Toronto is a true blessing.