On a typical day at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one can usually hear the sounds of shoes shuffling against the smooth hallway floors, a plethora of voices conversing in the Kay Kafe cafeteria and intercoms buzzing with appointment announcements.
It’s on a special day that one can hear a ukulele playing softly in the background, a solo concert for the doctors and nurses.
Today, Diego is playing the ukulele for Dr. Pui, his oncologist who is treating him for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer.
Diego’s journey to St. Jude started three years after finishing his first treatment for leukemia at one of St. Jude’s affiliated clinics in El Salvador, his home country. One day, he started feeling sick and doctors believed he had anemia.
Further tests revealed Diego’s leukemia had returned in mutated form. After being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the family was referred to St. Jude for a new medical protocol.
Upon arriving at St. Jude, the family found renewed hope.
“We found a great relief,” Grethel said. “From hearing in El Salvador that he had a 30% chance of survival to coming here and hearing that he would be okay.”
Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent when the hospital opened in 1962 to more than 80 percent today.
At St. Jude, Diego underwent treatment and shared his love of music with not only Dr. Pui, but also with Mexican singer, Saul ‘El Jaguar’ Alarcón. Alarcón had the chance to interact with Diego’s family and tour the hospital for the first time.
“You feel like you’re at home,” Alarcón said of St. Jude. “To imagine what people like Diego and his family are going through, while at the same time having so much faith in the blessing that St. Jude provides is amazing.”
For Diego’s family, St. Jude is an opportunity to help not only Diego, but others as well.
“Diego once asked me, ‘Why does everyone else have a normal life and I don’t?’” said Luis, Diego’s dad. “And I told him, ‘You are going through something on one else is going through, and you have to take advantage of it. You have to make the most of everything.’ I see Diego conquering the world and helping people, because if we are here it is to learn how to help others.”
Now going into the ninth grade, Diego enjoys playing in his own rock band and studying mathematics, competing at the national level and placing 5th out of 140 competitors in El Salvador. In the future, his parents see him cancer-free, traveling the world and giving motivational speeches.
The best reward in this life is helping other people. It is the hope, the life that they gave my son here.