Until early January of 2015, José Mateo was not very different from other seniors at South Dade Senior High School. And like many youths his age, he lifted weights to stay in shape.
“One day, when I tried to increase my workout, I couldn’t. From then on I felt pain in my back and I felt very weak,” said Mateo, 19.
His mother at first believed his ailment was just an excuse to stay out of school. But a few days later, she decided to take him to a doctor. Mateo recalls that they visited several specialists and that he had several X-rays taken, but all the tests were negative. Finally, his doctor ordered a blood test.
“That same weekend, he called me in person and told me to go to the emergency room for another test. I did that, and when the results came in, I was hospitalized for several days at Homestead Hospital. They found I had an acute form of leukemia known as ALL,” he said.
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He received the diagnosis in February. Since then, he has been in the care of Dr. Doured Daghistani, a specialist in hematology and pediatric oncology at the Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida.
Mateo has health insurance, but his family is poor and faces many difficulties. He and his siblings were born in Miami. His parents are from Guatemala.
His mother, Juana Mateo, 42, cares single-handedly for Clementino, 17, Candelaria, 15, Ismael, 12, Marina, 5, and Angel, 3. Their father was deported about three years ago.
“He worked in a plant nursery and one morning, when he was getting ready to go to work, two people came and told him they were officials and had some questions. They took him away and deported him,” José Mateo recalled.
Now convalescing at home, he tries to help his mother any way he can, and also help his siblings with their school work.
“I get assistance from Social Security and I try to help my mother. To survive, she sometimes prepares Mexican-Guatemalan food requested by different people,” José Mateo said.
One of his siblings picks fruit and tomatoes in Homestead. “He gets paid by the work he does, not by the hour, but that helps us,” José Mateo said.
Mateo receives assistance from the The Children’s Caring Cancer Center, a nonprofit administered by volunteers. Over the past 50 years, the organization’s president and CEO Lee Klein has launched a large number of programs focused on easing the emotional and financial stress that cancer creates for patients and families.
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