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Jaime of Puerto Rico became a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® years ago to give thanks for his seven healthy children.
He started giving occasionally after seeing a commercial on television, and then later, became a St. Jude Partner in Hope by giving monthly. When he signed up, he remembered a neighbor from years ago when he lived in New York who had a son with cancer and a colleague whose daughter had been living with muscular dystrophy. It was more reason to donate, he thought. His wife, Irma, was on board.
“I did research and looked into the hospital, and I was even more thankful, and I wanted to give consistently,” he said. “I wanted to help other children and to improve their quality of life.”
Jaime had never visited St. Jude, but as a donor, regularly received mailings that gave him a glimpse into the treatment and research breakthroughs. Jaime never imagined that one day St. Jude would be a lifeline for someone in his family.
In 2020, his youngest daughter, Genesis, gave birth to twin girls, Janelle and Amalia. Jaime and Irma were elated as they watched the girls grow and often witnessed milestones while they babysat. But when the twins were more than a year old, Janelle started to regress in her development. The toddler who could once sit on her own would fall over. Janelle also could no longer stand, which was something she had been doing.
Tests later revealed that Janelle had medulloblastoma, a fast-growing brain tumor of the cerebellum. The cerebellum controls balance and coordinated movements.
Janelle underwent surgery in Puerto Rico to remove the tumor and was later referred to St. Jude.
“I thought, ‘thank you, God is good,’” Jaime recalled of when he learned that Janelle was going to be treated at St. Jude. “I never thought that my monthly donation would one day help my granddaughter, but that is the way it was, not only my donations, but the donations of all those who give, and I’m thankful to them. Today, it’s Janelle, but tomorrow it will be another child.”
Janelle traveled to Memphis with her mother and father, Jan Louis, while her sister Amalia stayed in Puerto Rico with her grandparents. Jaime and Irma worried about the diagnosis and what was to come for their granddaughter.
“It was something very difficult for us, thinking about what we must go through, we knew that there were children who had gone through it. But you must live it to know the pain,” Irma recently said as she sat in her daughter’s living room.
At St. Jude, Janelle received chemotherapy for 16 months followed by six weeks of proton radiation therapy. She also underwent a procedure to replace a shunt in her brain.
Jaime and Irma video called their daughter daily to get updates on Janelle. They saw her improvements and looked forward to hearing about the gains she made during physical therapy sessions.
“We saw the miracle in our granddaughter. I saw it and I continue to see it every day,” Irma said. “Everything that Janelle needed, St. Jude gave her. The greatest gift that St. Jude has given me is the life of my granddaughter.”
Janelle went home to Puerto Rico in June 2023 where her grandparents were waiting with open arms followed by an emotional gathering of family and friends. Janelle returns to Memphis for regular checkups.
“The pain and anguish I felt began to heal because Janelle was here, and Amalia is back with her parents and all four of them are together as a family,” Irma said.
Jaime said Janelle is determined to walk again. She is crawling and often grabs someone’s hand to practice her stride.
“It’s so good to see her moving because there was a time that she wasn’t able to,” he said.
Jaime and Irma said they encourage others to donate to St. Jude. They talk about the work St. Jude does and their family’s experience.
“To all those who support St. Jude, keep giving because you are giving life to children so they can live happy — not only my granddaughter, but all those children who are being treated at St. Jude,” Irma said.