Santana’s face lights up as he remembers the day that Wigs for Kids came to visit the Ronald McDonald House. Two of his friends, Gabby and Stephania, had recently shaved their heads and were quiet and sad. All of that changed for a few minutes when they were handed their wigs. For Santana, this triggered an idea: he decided that he would grow out his hair and donate it so that other kids with cancer could experience the same kind of joy.
Such empathy would be impressive for any 6 year old, but even more so for one in Santana’s shoes. Just weeks before, what doctors originally thought were attention problems and heartburn turned out to be leukemia. In the blink of an eye Santana was pulled out of school in the Tri-Cities and sent to Spokane for a blood transfusion. During his treatment he stayed at the Ronald McDonald House off and on for the next thirty-nine months.
When Santana’s hair started falling out he and his dad Homar shaved their heads together. When Santana’s hair started growing back he told his dad about his plan and informed him that he too needed to grow out his hair. Homar couldn’t argue. Their act of kindness inspired 22 other family members and friends, who also decided to grow their hair out to donate to kids with cancer.
Santana finished his treatment and was officially declared cancer free in January 2015. That same month, he, his dad, and friends and family worked with a local barber who donated their time and space for a hair donation party. In total, the fundraiser brought in almost $2,000 for the Ronald McDonald House, as well as enough hair for many, many wigs.
Santana’s desire to the help stems from a simple motivation: despite the difficult circumstances that brought him to Spokane, many of his happiest memories from those three years were at the Ronald McDonald House. He remembers the dance parties he and his friends would have when someone was having a bad day, hanging out with his friend David in the Sponge Bob room, and his Grandma coming to the House to make him tamales. Despite being sick and tired, he felt surrounded by a community of people who understood and were there to lift him up during the tough times.
As Santana’s mom Michelle puts it, “If it wasn’t for the Ronald McDonald House, we wouldn’t have made it. This was the least we could do to help pay it forward…You need to love on each other. It’s the only way you get through.”
That empathy and compassion are traits clearly passed on to Santana, and felt by the hundreds of families who will benefit from his kindness.