One Saturday, Sofía Macario was playing soccer, her favorite sport. On Sunday, she was very tired and in pain. There were bruises on her legs. Her mother, Ereida Arellano, thought Sofía had been injured while playing. But two days later, doctors gave her a diagnosis: leukemia.
That was in January of this year, and the start of what Arellano describes as almost biblical suffering: two chemotherapy treatments per week, constant visits to doctors and blood checks and one of the hardest medical procedures, a spinal tap, that Sofía must undergo frequently.
Sofía Macario, 14, is one of the people selected to receive assistance through the Wish Book, a Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald program that is making its 40th annual appeal to the South Florida community to help the needy.
Many South Florida residents open their hearts to help families like Sofía’s. Some of the donors are immigrant families facing their own difficulties.
Family needs help to move and get a second car
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.
Sofía suffered a bout of pancreatitis as a result of the chemotherapy and spent one month in a hospital. Her mother had to stop working to take care of her full time, pushing the wheelchair the girl now requires and encouraging her when she feels weak.
“Before all this, Sofía was a little chubby, but now she’s lost weight,” Arellano said. The pancreatitis forced a halt in her treatment, but the chemotherapy was changed and now she’s responding well.
“She’s stronger, moves more around the house, is receiving mental health therapy by phone as well as physical therapy to improve her bone mobility,” the mother added. She does not believe her daughter is out of danger yet, but is holding on to whatever optimistic signals she receives from the doctors.
The family is also facing economic problems because when Arellano takes care of Sofía in the hospital, her husband has to miss his construction job to take care of their other children: Kevin, who is 15, and Lizette, who is 18 and autistic.
“The other car we had broke down and we could not repair it,” said Arellano, who now drives her husband to work and keeps their only vehicle in case of an emergency.
And when their apartment developed humidity and mold, they were forced to move to another home. They had to spend nearly $5,000 for the new place. It has only two bedrooms, so the parents sleep in the living room while the boy sleeps in one bedroom and the girls share the other.
“It’s very noisy here, and I worry my neighbors smoke a lot. The smoke comes in under the door, and sometimes I have to put down towels to block it,” said Arellano, who wants help moving to a better place.
The Macario family was also hit by the COVID pandemic. Everyone except the oldest girl got it, including Sofía, who received special medicines for the virus.
“She cannot bleed or fall,” said Arellano. What’s more, her husband lost his mother this year to the virus.
Sofía was nominated for Wish Book by the Jessica June Children’s Cancer Foundation, based in Fort Lauderdale. The foundation helps the family with the rent, but asks other people to help buy gifts for the children because the family’s many setbacks this year have left them unable to bear those costs.
“The family has faced many problems as it tries to focus on the treatment and survival of Sofía,” said Sandra Muvdi, president and executive director of the foundation she created in memory of her daughter, Jessica June Eiler Muvdi, who died from cancer in 2003.
Sofía was diagnosed in January, almost a year ago, but she has not lost the outlook of a typical 14-year-old. She likes soccer, reggaeton — her favorite singer is Ozuna — and clothes, especially clothes from H&M, Windsor and Macy’s.
“I also want a smart TV so I can watch Netflix,” and new clothes for Christmas, she told el Nuevo Herald. Her favorite colors are blue and turquoise.
A more modern Play Station where she can play her favorite games, Fall Guys and Just Dance, would be a good distraction for Sofía because she spends so much time at home. A laptop would allow her to go to school online and stay connected to the world. She already has a dog, Caramelo, who helps her and misses her when she’s in the hospital, but wants another dog, a Yorkie, to complete a family that loves her.
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. (The most requested items are often laptops and tablets for school, furniture, and accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.