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Walking for Vanessa

Veronica Whitney
Avon Elementary First Grader Vanessa Almanza needs kidney surgery.
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Instead of eating turkey on Thanksgiving, Vanessa, a first-grader at Avon Elementary School, spent five days Vail Valley Medical Center, where doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with her kidneys.

“She was born with a problem in her right kidney, which has never worked,” says Rocio Almanza, Vanessa’s mother. “We didn’t know until she had this infection. She was very sick.”

After she was treated and had several tests, doctors at the Children Hospital in Denver said Vanessa needed surgery to remove the non-functioning kidney.

“The doctor said if she didn’t get the surgery in the next months she would die,” Rocio Alamanza says. “He said that in front of Vanessa. She looked so sad all the way back home from Denver.”

The surgery is needed to remove the right kidney, which isn’t properly attached to Vanessa’s bladder.

“If the kidney stays it could ruin the other one or other parts of her body,” Almanza says. “She might need a transplant in the future, but that is still uncertain. It will depend on how the healthy kidney works.”

No insurance

The surgery, scheduled for March 25, will cost $15,000, a third of the requested $45,000. Because the Almanzas don’t have health insurance, Children’s Hospital is requiring half of that money before the surgery takes place, Rocio Almanza says.

“We can’t pay that,” Rocio Almanza says. “Leonardo (Almanza, Vanessa’s father) is a painter and earns about $2,000 a month. With that, we can’t afford health insurance.”

Bills for Vanessa’s treatments since November have added up to more than $10,000, she adds.

“We talked to the hospital and they said they wouldn’t do the surgery without the advance of half of the total cost,” says Dana Harrison, a kindergarten teacher at Avon Elementary who is helping with the fund-raiser for Vanessa’s surgery. “Even if the doctor decided to do it for free, that doesn’t take care of the hospital charges.”

“We went through Medicaid and they said the Almanzas make too much money to qualify,” Harrison said.

Home in the U.S.

The Almanza family moved to Avon from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, almost three years ago.

When Vanessa got sick in November, Rocio Almanza, started thinking where to take her daughter for treatment.

“At first we became disheartened and thought of going to Mexico,” she says. “But when we lived in Mexico and Vanessa got sick often, the doctors never requested any analysis. We never knew of her kidney failure until she got really sick in November. The doctors here took it seriously.”

In the middle of the interview, Vanessa runs in the classroom to see her mother and Harrison. She’s out of breath, like most children her age would be during recess, and she’s wearing her straight black hair in two ponytails.

She looks healthy, as any 7-year-old should be, and happy. All she says is she, “would like to feel well again.”

“Even though sometimes she doesn’t feel very well, she still comes to school,” Rocio Almanza says. “We don’t want her to stay home – she would get depressed.”

Another highlight of the fund-raising is that it is for an Hispanic child, Harrison says.

“We hear a lot about racial problems in the valley. In the beginning the Almanzas didn’t think the American kids would care,” she says. “But I was happily surprised when kids came and told me they were willing to give up their allowances or sacrifice their birthday presents to help Vanessa.”

In Denver, fund-raising efforts for a five-year-old Hispanic child with leukemia paid off in December when his parents raised the $400,000 needed for his bone-marrow transplant. The parents of Oscar Hernandez have no insurance, and because they are in the United States illegally, they do not qualify for Medicaid or other medical assistance programs.

transplant.

“We want the members of the community to come and walk for Vanessa,” Harrison says. “And any contribution, no matter how big, helps. I also want to thank the teachers at Avon Elementary, they have been incredible help.”

The gift of helping others

When Dana Harrison heard Vanessa’s story, she proposed her parents conduct a fund-raising campaign, including a walk-a-thon around Nottingham Lake on Valentine’s Day.

Harrison, 28, of Avon, is a single mother of two who also says she can’t afford health insurance with her teacher’s salary.

“It’s either that or rent. If something was to happen to my kids, I hope somebody will step up to help,” she says. “Students and teachers are very excited because they know they can help to save Vanessa’s life.”

Last week, the 385 students at Avon Elementary went home with envelopes for contributions, which Harrison says will go straight to Children’s Hospital.

“The next day, six kids brought in $1,100,” Harrison says. “That in just one day. Vail Associates has promised to match contributions with $5,000.”

“I’ve told the kids we had raffles and they said, “I don’t care’,” Harrison adds.

Walk for a good cause

What: Walk-a-thon around Nottingham Lake to raise money to help pay for Vannesa Almanza’s kidney surgery.

Who: Avon elementary students and teachers, family members and anybody else.

When: 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14

Where: Nottingham Park, Avon

Note: To contribute to Vanessa’s surgery, checks should be made out to the Walk for Vanessa fund at WestStar Bank in Avon. Donations may also be brought to Avon Elementary School. For more information, call 328-2950.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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