What a fantastic week at the Icla da Silva Foundation. We were privileged to share yet another tale of hope and pure humanity. This is the story of the first honorees for the 2017 New York Yankees Hope Week Celebration (#HopeWeek) – the inspirational story of Victor Garcia and his adorable little sister, Nayyelyn. Victor’s story is one of strength and dignity. He has valiantly made it through a difficult battle with Acute Biphenotypic Leukemia (ABL), which started back in the spring of 2015.
A Firm Foundation
The long chain of events in Victor’s journey initiated close communication between Mom, Ana, and a previous #HOPEWeek honoree, Johanna Arias, the Program Coordinator at The Icla da Silva Foundation. They eventually met in 2016 and after spending time with the Garcias, Johanna fell head over heels in love with this beautiful family. Johanna’s own story of hope showed how perseverance can change the course of your life during #HOPEWeek 2010 and she wanted to pay it forward. Johanna describes how her experience as a HOPE Week honoree made it possible for her to help inspiring families like the Garcias.
“I was awarded an internship at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, which provided the administrative experience I needed to move forward in my professional career. This, in turn, was instrumental in securing the position as Program Coordinator for the Icla da Silva Foundation.”
Johanna’s position at The Icla da Silva Foundation has since enabled her to meet some amazing people and to assist wherever she can. In honor of Icla herself, the foundation aims to reach 38,000 new potential bone marrow donors annually. The Icla da Silva Foundation has a special emphasis in recruiting ethnic diverse donors because there are not enough on the bone marrow registry. You can read Icla’s full story here.
The Big Apple
Victor was due to return to the Dominican Republic in February but his doctors advised he was not yet well enough to travel. In the meantime, Johanna called up an old contact at The New York Yankees to see if she could organize a surprise tour of the Yankee stadium. With baseball practically being a religion in the Dominican Republic, she knew the Garcias were huge fans.
The tour didn’t materialize, but the media team at the New York Yankees decided to do something better instead. After a few weeks of meetings, the Icla da Silva Foundation was confirmed as one of the honorees for this year’s HOPE week celebration.
“I told Ana we were finally bringing them to the city to spend a few days sightseeing. The team at YES Network reached out to me to organize an interview for the family, but we couldn’t tell them what it was for.”
#HOPEWeek is an annual charity event hosted by the New York Yankees. It is a week to celebrate and highlight community heroes, dubbed ‘honorees’ by the Yankees. These honorees are individuals who inspire or initiate noteworthy deeds in their local community.
Under the guise of needing videos for the new website the Icla team was building, Ana unsuspectingly agreed to the interview. On May 20th, the family was brought down to New York and did the interview for YES Network. Treated to a marvelous day of sightseeing around the Big Apple, the tired, happy family were told that the following day would start with a tour of the Yankees Stadium. They expressed earlier that the stadium was ‘much bigger than they had imagined.’ They drove past it on their way down from New Haven. They even asked her if there was a game they could stay and watch. “I had to lie and told them that I didn’t think we had time for that,” she admitted.
A Day Out With The Yankees
On May 22nd, 2017 the big day finally arrived. It began with a tour of the Yankee stadium, as promised. The Icla da Silva Foundation team met up and started the ‘tour’ in the batting cage behind the dugout. That was when the real surprise was revealed, and there was no holding back! Cameras captured excitement as the family were told they were honorees for #HOPEWeek 2017; and would spend the entire day with some of the players at the stadium and at the world-famous Bronx Zoo! They would even be back for the Yankees game later that evening!
After chuckling their way through a batting practice with the Yankees, the group traveled to the Bronx Zoo. Taking a shuttle from the stadium to the Bronx Zoo, there was an electric air of anticipation as the children were hurtled into a whole other world. When they arrived they had lunch with the players at the Dancing Crane Cafe with the nearby flamingos for company.
After lunch, Jason Zillo, Director of the Media Department at the New York Yankees, presented Airam da Silva and the Foundation with a generous $10,000 donation check towards the Foundation’s patient support services. Then they were off to see the animals!
Gorillas, Monkeys and Snakes
The intimate exhibits and exotic collection of animals of the Bronx Zoo completely captivated the imaginations of Victor and Nayyelyn. The group took a spin around the fascinating place taking in sights and sounds beyond imagination.
Entertainment was continuously provided by both the hilarious reactions of each of the children and comical monkeys, slithering snakes, unusual tree kangaroos and gnarly asian crocodiles. The kids were in paradise.
“We saw the gorillas at the Congo Exhibit first. Everyone, not just the kids were excited about that. You can see Nayyelyn banging her chest alongside the gorillas in one of the news articles from that day.”
After more fun and games, we headed back to the stadium for dinner and to watch the game. We were treated to in the Legends Suite Dining Hall where the two young honorees went ballistic once they realized all the candy was free – and that there was not one, but two candy fully-stocked candy bars! Obviously, an abundance of Ring Pops and Kit-Kats were readily consumed that evening.
After dinner was another fantastic surprise, Victor and Nayyelyn were asked to throw the first pitch of the game – an honor both were more than happy to accept. After all, what is a little pitch in front of a stadium full of people when you have come through bone marrow transplants and endless months of recovery? The game was a success and the Yankees won, so the deserving honorees got to close out the day down on the field, giving ecstatic high fives all around. Just imagine the stories both will tell their grandchildren one day!
Thanks to the vision of HOPE Week, and the dedicated efforts of people like Johanna at The Icla da Silva Foundation, Victor, Nayyelyn and Ana got to be part of a larger story of hope and love. There is no doubt that #HOPEWeek 2017 was a day that Victor and his family will be talking about for a long time.
The Icla da Silva Foundation is growing an initiative to help more patients like Victor each year. If you would like to donate to support the patient services that saved Victor’s life please consider making a financial donation .
There is an especially great need for bone marrow donors from ethnic diverse communites to come forward because not everyone has a superhero like Nayyelyn to help them fight. Could you be someone’s Nayyelyn? Find out how to join the registry here. Like Nayyelyn, you are the key to a long and happy life for brave souls like Victor.