Melodie Ruiz Tannert has chocolate eyes, lavendar glasses and a brunette pixie hairstyle.
You wouldn’t know she spent her 12th birthday in the hospital, clutching an American Girl Doll named Grace, or escapes the pain of her chemotherapy treatments reading “Harry Potter” books.
“I want to be an artist,” she said. “I like wizards and magic and books because they take me to another place.”
She needs that other place to cope with her medical issues. For the past year, Melodie has been battling leukemia, a cancer that attacks the bone marrow and blood cells. She has had to contend with regular chemo treatments, and takes anywhere from seven to 16 pills a day.
Despite these challanges, Melodie is a star student in the gifted program at Riviera Middle School in southwest Miami-Dade. Yet she has to complete her classwork using a cell phone, because her family’s 8-year-old laptop cannot download the assignments that are posted online. It takes her hours to do the work.
“It takes forever because I have to constantly zoom in and out of the screen,” she said.
Her mother, Patricia Tannert, is hoping this holiday she can scrape together about $1,200 to buy Melodie and her 14-year-old son, Patrick, a new laptop. She also needs a $100 gas card to drive Melodie to and from Baptist Hospital for her weekly checkups and treatments.
Melodie’s story is part of this year’s Miami Herald Wish Book program, which helps those in need during the holiday season. For more than 30 years, Wish Book has helped thousands of South Floridians with the generous support of Miami Herald readers, who’ve donated job offers, housing, medical assistance and cars and vans, among many other contributions.
“Patricia is a single mom and she is very much in need,’’ said Laura Lebret from the Children’s Cancer Caring Center, the nonprofit group that recommended Melodie and her family to Wish Book. “It’s very hard to work when you have a sick child in the hospital.’’
Patricia is hoping her daughter will be cancer free in a few months.
“I think God is taking care of my baby,” Patricia said.
Doctors initially thought Melodie was anemic, but tests showed leukemia when she was diagnosed last year. She was 11.
The year has been tough for the family. Patricia’s husband of four years left as soon as Melodie was diagnosed. And because she spent a month in the hospital with her daughter, Patricia lost her job as a maid.
The real blow came when her landlord raised the rent. With no job, no husband, a sick daughter and a 14-year-old son at home to care for, Patricia had a week to find an affordable apartment with the little money she had saved. There are still unopened boxes in her apartment in Kendall.
“I try to be strong but sometimes I can’t,” she said.
Friends helped her out with finding work, but it was always temporary. She would hand out fliers and clean houses but the money was never steady. While the kids are at school, she applys for jobs around Kendall.
“I don’t even have money to divorce,” she said.
When she feels the stress crushing her, she thinks of her children and her daughter fighting cancer.
“She’s my sunshine,” she said.
For now, Melodie is focusing on her studies and her dreams of becoming an artist. Maybe she’ll live in New York City or Paris, but for now she’ll draw, paint and fight cancer.
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook
How to Help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email email@example.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook