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Syosset girl battles leukemia, helps others

Katie Gallardo hugs her daughter Gina, a leukemia

Katie Gallardo hugs her daughter Gina, a leukemia survivor, outside of the wellness center at the Sunrise Day Camp in Wheatley Heights. The Gallardos are hosting a fundraiser featuring a bone marrow and blood drive on July 21 at the Plainview Reformed Church on Old Bethpage Road. (July 6, 2012) (Credit: Fran Berkman)

For her sixth birthday, Gina Gallardo had a special request for her mother, and it didn’t involve bowling, theme parks or roller skating.

Gina asked her mother if they could hold a blood drive instead of a birthday party.

The Syosset girl is on a mission to help others since she was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2009.

“It was something that was very hard to take in; we were actually shocked,” said her mother Katie Gallardo. “I knew nothing about the medication and treatment, so I was very scared.”

Dr. Kourosh Ashourzadeh, of Caring Pediatrics Associates in Levittown, said when he saw Gina in 2009 she looked “like a rag doll” and “pale as a ghost.” Ashourzadeh sent Gina to the emergency room where a blood test showed that she was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Although ALL is the most common, and curable form of leukemia among children, it still took more than two years of daily chemotherapy treatment until Gina was declared cancer free in July 2011.

“So far, so good,” Ashourzadeh said. “If it doesn’t come back in five years there’s a good chance it won’t come back.”

Gallardo knows all too well that her daughter may not be in the clear yet. Recently, a young friend of Gina’s was taken off chemotherapy because his cancer was gone, but he quickly relapsed.

The 8-year-old child is now awaiting a bone-marrow transplant, but only five people in the international bone marrow registry are potential matches, according to Gallardo. The Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide registry currently has nearly 20 million potential donors.

In honor of Gina and local children who have cancer, Gallardo is hosting a blood and bone marrow drive. The event is scheduled for July 21 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Plainview Reformed Church located at 560 Old Bethpage Rd. in Plainview.

Though it won’t be a substitute for Gina’ birthday party, which will be in September, this is the third consecutive year that Gallardo has organized this type of event.

In addition to donating blood and registering to be a bone marrow donor, the event will include hot food, baked goods and several auctions and raffles featuring products such as opera tickets, tickets to sporting events and gift baskets.

All of the proceeds from the event will be donated to local charities such as The Morgan Center, A Mother’s Kiss, Friends of Karen, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Sarah Grace Foundation and Sunrise Day Camp.

Gallardo has a special bond to many of these charities because they helped Gina through her struggle with cancer. Gina still attends Sunrise Day Camp, the Wheatley Heights facility for children with cancer and their siblings.

The blood drive is an especially poignant way for Gallardo to give back, because she has seen firsthand how donations can make a difference. Shortly after being diagnosed in 2009, Gina was admitted to the hospital because she was hardly able to move, Gallardo said. After receiving a blood transfusion, Gina quickly perked up and got back to being the energetic and playful girl her parents had come to know.

“We had so many balloons in her hospital room and she was up playing with them and shaking them and having a great time,” Gallardo said.

Now cancer-free, Gina has been diligent in helping her mother hand out fliers promoting their blood and bone-marrow drive. After seeing less fortunate friends lose the struggle at young ages, the Gallardo mother-daughter tandem is doing as much as possible to help the cancer community to which they are forever bound.

“It’s such a horror everyday; we’re off treatment for a year and I still think about it,” Gallardo said. “Everything is so emotional because she’s lucky to be alive.”

Tags: Syosset

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