Local family pitches in to help cancer stricken Mexican girl

A Whitehorse family is holding a massive garage sale to raise money for the bone-marrow transplant of a young girl from Northern Mexico.

A Whitehorse family is holding a massive garage sale to raise money for the bone-marrow transplant of a young girl from Northern Mexico.

Carmen Fuentes — called Carmelita by friends and family — was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005.

After the 16-year-old received chemotherapy treatment in her hometown of Saltillo, Mexico, the cancer went into remission in late 2007.

Five months ago, Carmen suffered a relapse, prompting doctors to prescribe the transplant.

“For patients who have failed routine chemotherapy, transplantation is usually the only (cure) option left,” said Dr. Robert Krance, a Texas physician handling Carmen’s case.

Unable to find a matching marrow donor among her family and friends, Carmen was forced to look elsewhere for potential volunteer donors.

In early April, a search through the four million donors listed under the United States’ National Bone Marrow Donor Registry yielded only a single potential match and a few partial matches.

The transplanting procedure, which would be performed in the southern United States, has been quoted at US$671,000.

Since the procedure will take place outside the borders of Mexico, it will not be covered under the Fuentes’ healthcare plan, which had covered Carmen’s chemotherapy treatment.

Pooling their savings, Carmen’s family was able to buy two cars that were auctioned off in a fundraising raffle.

The raffle raised more than $225,000, leaving a further $446,000 to be found.

The Fuentes family holds a special connection with the family of Eva Stehelin, hostess of the Stehelin Ranch Bed and Breakfast.

For more than 20 years, Stehelin and her family have been conducting informal, private exchanges between Whitehorse and Carmen’s hometown of Saltillo.

In the late ‘80s, Carmen’s aunt Lupita was the first Mexican to come to Whitehorse on exchange.

“Lupita was up here, and then Lupita’s sister was up here, and then my kids went down and then gradually into the next generation,” explained Yvonne Emson, Stehelin’s sister-in-law.

The family had first heard about the transplant through Stehelin’s granddaughter, who is currently on exchange in Saltillo.

Because of their routine travels between Whitehorse and Saltillo, the family has “known (Carmen) since she was a little girl,” said Stehelin.

“When she was sick, she would bead and make necklaces and mail the necklaces to us,” said Brenda Holland, Stehelin’s daughter.

Right before her initial diagnosis in 2005, the entire Fuentes family had come up to spend Christmas in Whitehorse.

“(Carmen’s) a part of our family,” said Holland.

Saturday and Sunday, the family is holding a massive garage sale to raise money for the transplant.

When the news of the procedure first hit, the family instantly thought about what they could do to help.

Through community support, they plan to stock the garage sale with used items from throughout Whitehorse.

“What we’re hoping is that people will take things that they would normally sell in a garage sale, and donate them to our garage sale,” said Stehelin.

“We know it will just be a trickle, but everything helps,” she said.

“We obviously can’t raise ($400,000), but we thought that this would be at least some way that we could contribute to the treatment … we’re just trying to find ways that we can assist the family in that process,” said Michele MacDonnell, who had first established contact with the Fuentes family while on a Rotary Exchange.

Stehelin’s family have all donated personally to the cause, and recently received “a very generous donation from one individual here in town.”

Stehelin isn’t giving up the search for more sources of funding.

“We have a lot of inquiries out there, and quite a few irons in the fire,” she said.

The procedure carries a 70 per cent chance of recovery and it is not without risk.

“There is between a 10 to 15 per cent chance of a fatal complication related to the transplant procedure. However the procedure can be life saving and certainly this is the best option for a child who has failed prior chemotherapy,” wrote Dr. Krance in an April 4 e-mail.

With more than four months elapsed since the first signs of relapse, “time is running out,” said Stehelin.

The sale will be at 46 Redwood St. this Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m.

Items can be dropped off at the Yukon Gallery all this week

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