Boy who inspired statewide marrow drive comes home

Six-year-old leukemia patient underwent transplant in fall

Posted: Friday, February 03, 2006

All hail - Cesar has returned to Juneau victorious after a nine-month battle.

Six-year-old Alex Cesar came home to the state capital Thursday after an extended stay at Children's Hospital in Seattle, where he underwent treatment for leukemia. His family conducted a successful statewide bone-marrow drive in May and June, yielding a perfect match for the boy. He had a marrow transplant in October at the hospital.

"It feels real good to be home," said Robert Cesar, Alex's father. "I've been back and forth, but I've been down there for the last month and a half."

People around the state participated in the bone-marrow drive that Alex inspired, registering 1,010 in the National Marrow Donor Program. Potential donors in Anchorage, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Kake, Haines, Angoon and Skagway participated in the drive.

The Alaska Native boy's cause was considered important statewide because there has been a dearth of potential Native matches on the marrow donor list.

Alex was greeted by a crowd of friends and family members at Juneau International Airport Thursday. They held up signs and gave him a round of applause as he came out of the secured terminal area. He had a big grin on his face and held a stuffed toy of the "E.T." movie character, which was nearly his height.

The boy started playing with his young cousins immediately and imitated a bear - hunched over and lurching with his arms in front of him - much to the delight of onlookers.

Rachel Dugaqua said it is "awesome" to bring her son home to Alaska.

"I didn't want to come back until we brought him home," she said. "I did once before, but it wasn't the same. Now that we're all here it's great."

A number of Alex's relatives temporarily relocated to the Seattle area to be near him during his treatment.

Dugaqua said she is looking forward to the chance to relax now that they are home.

"Not too much relaxation," she said. "He's still got a lot to do. We'll just have to wait to see how it goes."

Alex is still on medication and will not be able to attend school for about a year until he recovers further. His family plans to bring him back to Seattle in October for a checkup one year after the transplant.

"You just take one day at a time, because that is all you can do," said his grandmother, Andrea Cesar.

Aunt Andrea Quinto said the family is thrilled at her nephew's recovery.

"He's doing unbelievable," she said. "He's had very, very little complications."

Cesar will be busy not only getting healthy, but also being a kid. He plans to learn to play the drums to write a letter trying to arrange a meeting with action movie star Jet Li as part of his request to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

He's also a big football fan, so Sunday's Super Bowl will be a treat.

"He's a Seahawks fan, so we came up with a phrase, 'Hawk-a-doodle-doo,'" Robert Cesar said. "We're looking forward to the football game and we're looking forward to the Seahawks winning."

The family is hoping to capitalize on the success of last year's marrow drive by conducting another one this spring or summer.

Alex Viteri, a Cancer Connection board member and next-door neighbor of Alex's, said last year's drive was one of the most successful in the nation's history, matching four kids from Alaska with donors. He said activists hope to register more Alaska Natives and minorities in the upcoming drive.

"In the Native community there are very, very few people to choose from," Viteri said.

He said Cancer Connection will work closely with the Alaska Blood Bank in Anchorage. He hopes to get every hospital in the state to have blood-drawing kits to make the donor list longer.

Each of the family members expressed gratitude for the amount of public support given to the family since Alex was diagnosed on April 27.

"There are so many people who have donated to me, it's unbelievable," said Dugaqua, a state employee. "People donated me their personal leave and made sure my insurance was getting paid. (The state) held my job for me.

"I just can't believe it. There are way too many people to thank."

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