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The Icla Da Silva Foundation has been helping patients with blood cancers, and adding potential donors to the bone marrow registry, for 26 years. We started in memory of my sister Icla, who was unable to find the match that she needed to survive.
In her honor, every year the Icla Da Silva Foundation adds 38,000 new members to the registry. Potential life savers, with a strong focus on communities from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
When a family learns that a loved one has been diagnosed with a rare disease or blood cancer, and is in need of a bone marrow transplant, the fear can be horribly daunting. Our goal is to offer these patients and their families hope for a second chance, hope for a life-saving stem cell or bone marrow match.
One of our patients, Julian Morales, has been searching for his match since he was three years old. Now seven, Julian smiles when he speaks about the day he will finally be able to go to a water park with his family, or play outside with his sister, or simply enjoy a single nights rest without pain or discomfort.
Julian was born with a rare genetic disorder, Dyskeratosis Congenita (DKC). His bone marrow does not produce enough blood cells, and his immune system is severely compromised. The team at Icla has been working to find a bone marrow match for Julian by hosting drives in diverse communities.
Patients with Hispanic or Latino heritage only have a 46% percent chance of finding a matching donor on the registry. Those with mixed ethnicities have an even lower probability of finding their match. Julian is of Honduran and Guatemalan descent, and his need for a life saving match grows with every day. With the support of people like you, we continue the search for his match.
There are many deserving and inspiring Foundations to support on this #Giving Tuesday. This year we hope you think of the Icla da Silva Foundation, of Julian Morales, and of the thousands of children in need of their perfect match. Contributions like yours give hope to the patients, their families, and the many friends in their community.
Thank you for your generosity.
Thank you for being a part of our family.
Airam Da Silva
please donateA Night to Remember with Jennifer Jones Austin: Together We Can Save More Lives
The Icla da Silva Foundation is proud to announce Jennifer Jones Austin as Master of Ceremonies at the 2018 Hope Gala. The Gala event, taking place on October 17th in NYC is the largest fundraiser for Icla da Silva.
Jennifer Jones Austin is a wife, mother, lawyer and family advocate. She is CEO and Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA), an anti-poverty, policy and advocacy organization with 170 member human services agencies operating throughout New York City. Prior to joining FPWA, Ms. Jones Austin served as Senior Vice President of United Way NYC, Family Services Coordinator for Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Commissioner for the NYC Administration for Children’s Services, Civil Rights Deputy Bureau Chief for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, and Vice President for LearnNow/Edison Schools Inc. She currently is a Board Member of the National Action Network, the New York Blood Center, the NYC Board of Correction, and the Fund for Public Housing.
She is also a leukemia survivor, and the author of Consider It Pure Joy. The book is an account of her battle with leukemia, and her race against time in the search for a cure. Together with family and friends, Jennifer Jones Austin led a campaign that added more than 13,000 potential bone marrow donors to the registry. Those donors added much needed hope for the many patients fighting this deadly disease.
The Icla da Silva Foundation assisted Jennifer Jones Austin during her search. We are grateful that she, and her husband Shawn Austin, who serves as Chairman on the Board of Trustees for the Icla da Silva Foundation, stand with us and continue their support of our mission.
Please join us for a night to remember.
The 2018 Hope Gala takes place on Wednesday evening, October 17th at 6:30 PM. The dinner and dance is black tie optional and will be held at Guastavino’s, 409 east 59th Street in New York City.
rsvp for a night to remember
Patient Update: Mighty Mikey Sexton
Mikey met with his pediatric CML specialist a few weeks ago and he is doing great! The tyrosine kinase inhibitors (his TKI medication) are working and his chronic myeloid leukemia levels are very low. He starts school next month and his family is very happy.
We are happy also. Way to go Mikey!
Did you know that an orange ribbon promotes leukemia awareness and shows support for leukemia survivors and their family and friends? Orange also happens to be Mikey Sexton’s favorite color. It’s a strange coincidence because seven year old Mikey was just recently diagnosed with CML (chronic myeloid leukemia) and is in need of a bone marrow transplant.
CML is a rare form of blood cancer that typically affects older adults, so it is rarer still to be diagnosed with CML as a young child. It begins in the blood forming cells of the bone marrow, and eventually spreads to the blood. CML is a fairly slow growing leukemia, but it can also change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that is hard to treat.
Mikey’s father, Mike Sexton, who is a corrections officer and volunteer fireman says, “he was really tired, kind of pale, and not really acting like himself.” After his diagnosis, and a week at the hospital, Mikey spent 2 weeks at home taking oral chemotherapy drugs.
His doctors believe that a bone marrow transplant will be his only hope for a cure. Mikey’s younger brother was tested, but he is only a 50% match.
This is where the Icla da Silva Foundation steps in. Patients like Mikey, who need a transplant, rely on us to help them find a matching bone marrow donor. We have begun working with Mikey’s family to schedule marrow drives, asking people to join the Be The Match bone marrow registry. You can join the registry by by attending one of our drives, or you can join online, providing basic contact information and some medical history. Be The Match sends out a swab kit, with simple directions to capture your HLA type, and you will be entered in the registry with the hopes of matching a patient in need of a marrow transplant.
There are more than 14,000 patients with various forms of blood cancer who can be saved if they are able to find a matching donor. The online process to join the registry takes 8 minutes. If you match a patient and agree to become a donor, the gratitude and understanding that you saved a life lasts a lifetime.
You can join the registry in honor of Mikey right here, you may be his match.joIN the registry
Another way that you can help is by spreading the word about Mikey’s story. You can share this story by using the links below, and ask your friends to consider joining the registry. If you have access to a larger group of people – through an employer, a club, a school or a church organization, you can host a drive in honor of a patient. We do most of the work, you simply have to fill out the request form here and make the introduction.
You can also help the family directly by making a donation to their personal gofundme page.
Mikey was deemed healthy enough to go back to school, and he couldn’t be happier. This video from his hometown Spectrum News, shows the overwhelming support received at his elementary school.
Warm Welcome to Classmate Battling Leukemia from Spectrum News
Mikey is a sweet boy who loves being with his friends. Although he was very excited to return to school, his parents have decided it would be best for him to attend ½ days, since Mikey is physically exhausted and can’t make it through a full day.
He likes reading, playing hockey and being a tiger scout…and of course, he also loves the color orange. We have high hopes for a matching donor, and when the time is right, a successful transplant. Keep going Mikey!
In Memory: Vivianna Sophia Lane
With tremendous sadness, we were recently notified of the untimely passing of Vivianna Sophia Lane. She died Tuesday, August 7th at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. We extend heartfelt condolences to her family, her friends and anyone who was fortunate to come in contact with her. Sophia was a talented, passionate and hard working young woman who was fighting a battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. We were working with Sophia and her family in their search to find a matching bone marrow donor. Sophia was 21 years old.
Her family has notified us that they would like us to keep her hope alive; ” if you haven’t done so, please sign up to be a bone marrow donor. One hundred and forty people signed up to save her life, and others. It made her so happy in her last days.”
join the registry
Vivianna “Sophia” Lane is a 21 year old college student at Lake Forest College, in Lake Forest, IL, a suburb north of Chicago. She is working towards her bachelors degree, a double major in Business and Studio Art.
Sophia is energetic, creative, outgoing and well rounded. She is passionate about art, golf, singing, biking and swimming. She is hard working. Her dedication to golf includes competing on the boys team in high school, caddying, coaching and working at a golf shop. Her devotion to art encompasses volunteering, two internships and her first solo exhibition at the Evanston Art Center.
Sophia also has B cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She was diagnosed last year (November 2017), underwent chemotherapy treatments and relapsed just last month (July 2018). Her doctors are working to get her into remission so that she can undergo a stem cell transplant. Sophia does not have a sibling match and will rely on the Be the Match registry to find a lifesaving donor.
We need to find a matching stem cell donor for Sophia. The only way to do this is to ask more people to join the registry.
Joining is easy. Click the link, setup an account with an email and password, and answer a few questions. A swab kit will be sent to your home. Once you swab the inside of your cheek and return it to Be the Match, you are entered in the registry and included in patient searches.
More than 14,000 patients are searching every year. Their cure is inside you. You may save a life.
Please join the registry for Sophia: join the registry
To find more information about the donation process, please click here.
If you have already joined, please help us share Sophia’s story so that we may get others to consider becoming a potential life-saver.
Why Do People Volunteer?
Have you ever considering volunteering your time. Some people have a skill, or an experience that they wish to share. Others are looking to gain an experience or learn about something new. And many just want to give back, to feel that they contributed, assisted another person, or supported a particular mission or purpose.
At Icla da Silva, our mission is to save lives by recruiting bone marrow donors and provide support services to children and adults with leukemia and other diseases treatable by marrow transplants.
We could not continue this mission without the support of our many volunteers. We celebrate those who have the desire to give, learn, share and the dedication to contribute their time to our foundation. We are grateful to the many students, survivors, patients, family members, and friends who put forth great effort to continue our mission.
Volunteers help us organize and activate more than 2500 bone marrow drives across the country every year. They assist us in the development and activation of fundraising events, they act as committee members and they serve on our board.
We are thankful to every last one of them.
We recently asked some of our volunteers about why they work with us. Below you will find some of their stories.
If you wish to become a volunteer with us, please visit here to enter your information and we will contact you.
I volunteer because I am amazed that I can be a small part of an effort that literally saves lives. It is especially important to inform Hispanics about the importance of joining the registry so more of our Latino friends and loved ones who are struggling with bone marrow diseases can be saved.
I want people to know the realities of joining – how easy it is and how safe it is and most importantly how magnificent it is to be able to save someone’s life.
Many people don’t join because they are afraid. They know very little about the process and usually most of what they think is false. They are unaware of how easy to can be to save a life and how worth it is. I hope that as more donors and recipients share their stories more people will join the registry.
I volunteer with Icla da Silva because I want to spread more information about the benefits of donating bone marrow. It can save lives.
We chose to volunteer for the Icla da Silva Foundation because we want to spread awareness to as many people as possible, in the hopes of one day saving someones life!
I first learned about the Icla da Silva Foundation from my wife who is a professor at Florida Technical College. They were doing a donor drive on campus. The moment I found out what they do for people; I knew I had to help. I spoke at the school when they came to visit and that’s how I met Mauricio Murillo. I wanted to do my part and tell my story to help other people save lives.
By joining the registry you can help save a life. If it weren’t for organizations like the Icla da Silva Foundation, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell my story. I am an AML leukemia survivor for over 20 years. You just fill out application, do the swabs and if you’re a match, you get a call to donate.
I believe the biggest challenge for people is knowing the procedure and seeing value on why they should make a donation. There are also many myths out there regarding bone marrow donation. It’s a simple process, easy to register and also donate when a match is found.
More stories of survivors need to be told. It will inspire and motivate people to help save someone who is really in need. Statistics are also important on how a bone marrow transplant increases the odds of survival for those battling cancer. My odds were a 5-10% chance to survive the transplant; imagine what my chances of surviving were without it. I wrote a book about my cancer survivor story and about my transplant. I’m in the process of doing a revamped version including more details of my story. (You can visit here to find out more about Lonnie’s book.)
Volunteering has always been a rewarding experience especially with the very kind hearted and hard working people I have met at Icla da Silva. I hope that our efforts in raising awareness of the donation registry has made a significant impact on people’s lives.
I volunteer because I like to help people regardless of their nationality, age, gender or condition. There is much need in everything related to cancer including education. Community unity is important.
There is a lack of information about how easy it can be to save a life through donation. We must start by making people aware of what it means to register as a possible donor. Let each person understand that it can be the only opportunity save a patient with a blood disease.
Because people do not know the information, they have the wrong perception of what it means to be a bone marrow donor. They don’t even understand that the chances of being a donor are really low.
In December of 2017 my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I am now fully aware that one of the treatments is a bone marrow transplant, I am convinced of the need to educate people, especially those who do not register due to ignorance or lack of reliable information.
We work with the Love Your Melon Campus Crews at many different universities. You can read more about our relationship here.
The girls at the University of Central Florida insist that the bone marrow registry is so important, whether they sign up 5 people or 50 to the registry, it’s all making a difference, because it only takes one match to help save a life.
I started volunteering for the foundation when I was in college. I was looking for a way to make a difference, develop my leadership skills and learn about topics that were related to medicine. When I joined the Icla team with Mauricio, and we began talking to others about bone marrow donation and blood cell donation; I realized the huge need there was for more information and understanding in regards to this topic. This motivated me even more to educate others and dispel myths around this issue. I also learned a lot about myself and what motivated me to pursue my medical career, seeing the profound effect that diseases can have in the human day to day life and condition.
As I was volunteering, I also realized the need to recruit as many people as possible, especially minorities. When I thought about it, minorities encompass such a small percentage of the registry that if anyone in my family ever got sick we would have a much lower chance of finding a life saving bone marrow match. Registering also does not mean you will get called to donate the next day but it does mean that you have the option of doing so, knowing that you will play a crucial part in a potential life saving intervention.
Sometimes the process is scary so I encourage everyone to get educated on the need and the process of bone marrow and blood cell donation and give someone else the gift of living a healthy life. I think media and movies have helped spread the idea that this process is painful and dangerous to those donating and getting the right information and garnish interest from others has been a challenge.
Being in the medical field I have met many children and adults with bone cancer. I have seen first hand how devastating this diagnosis can be to the patient, and their families and close friends. I have seen the frustration from families and their pain as they try to do everything possible to save their loved ones life. This makes it very hard for me to understand why most people won’t sign up. Seeing these cases every day makes me want to teach others and encourage them to sign up to the registry and really give others the chance to live a full healthy life.
Thank you to our many volunteers. Without you, we could not save as many lives or support as many patients in need! If you wish to join us as a volunteer, please visit this link and enter your information so we can contact you.
Celebrating 25 Years Saving Lives
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of The Icla da Silva Foundation. For 25 years we have worked tirelessly to save the lives of patients with leukemia and other diseases treatable with bone marrow transplant.
The Icla da Silva Foundation was founded in memory of my younger sister Icla. Our family moved to New York from Brazil after Icla’s diagnosis with leukemia because the doctors told us it would be impossible to find a life-saving bone marrow match in Brazil due to a lack of a registry in the country. There is only a 25% chance a sibling will be a match, however neither myself nor my brother were. Our family began to enlist our new community in New York in an effort to add more bone marrow donors to the National Marrow Donor Program’s registry (now the Be the Match registry). We went to churches, community centers, and schools, all hoping that one special person might be my sister’s cure. Sadly, Icla passed away in New York City, never having found a matching donor.
In a note found after her passing, Icla wrote: “Dear Mom, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I want you to help all of my friends.” Icla’s last brave wishes were to help people in need of bone marrow transplants, and thus the Icla da Silva Foundation was established.
When my sister passed away on June 21, 1991, she was only 13 years old. This year, as we celebrate 25 years in service to patients in need of a bone marrow transplant, it is hard to wrap my head around the reality that this organization, her namesake, has existed almost twice as long as she did on this Earth. It is a testament to her heart and her vision that we stand here today.
The Icla da Silva Foundation exists to support patients by recruiting bone marrow donors, raising funds and assisting with financial and emotional support. We also help patients navigate the medical system and make referrals to various treatment centers depending on the specific needs of each patient.
I am very proud that the Icla da Silva Foundation is the largest recruitment partner for the Be the Match registry, recruiting over 38,000 potential bone marrow donors every year. Recognizing the importance of genetics and ancestry in finding a compatible donor match, we organize drives with a specific mission of adding donors from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Despite our successes, our mission isn’t done. There are 13,000 people who need a bone marrow transplant in the US every year, 75% of whom won’t find a match in their family, and the sad reality is that many thousands will pass without ever finding their match.
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank our friends, our supporters and the many volunteers who dedicate an average of 3,000 hours every year to saving lives. This year, we celebrate you for your support in ensuring that we raise the critical funds necessary for advancing our mission, allowing us to continue in our fight against blood cancers and other diseases that can only be cured by a bone marrow transplant. Without you, our life-saving work would not be possible. We are happy to commemorate Icla and remember her positive spirit that continues to inspire us to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Airam da Silva
The Icla da Silva Foundation
PS: To learn more about how you can become involved with The Icla da Silva Foundation, please visit our Get Involved page and add us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Mix & Match Patient Brunch
It’s a wonderful feeling to truly know and be known. No matter the course of our journey, we share the most basic of human needs: to be loved and accepted. This is the motivation behind the Icla da Silva Foundation’s annual Mix & Match event, which has continued in this spirit since its inception seven years ago.
In 2010, the foundation conducted several patient interviews in a bid to identify potential gaps in the Patient Support Services provided. The invaluable patient responses expressed a desire to connect with others who truly understood the unique circumstances they were facing. Meeting other people going through, or who have already come through a similar situation, is a powerful tool indeed. The patients assisted by the foundation, those waiting for bone marrow transplants, as well as marrow donors, caregivers, friends and family were ready to connect on a deeper level.
Inspired to action, Icla sought creative ideas on how to effectively connect a diverse group of people with one another. As an organization providing assistance to those awaiting bone marrow transplants, it is easy to focus on administrative requirements rather than the emotional needs presented. The foundation understood, however, that emotional health was key to the fight. Emotionally healthy patients and their families are equipped to succeed. Time and time again, Icla has witnessed how a positive attitude towards impossible circumstances makes the greatest difference to the healing and recovery process; no matter the unexpected obstacles or the final outcome.
Inspired to provide a platform for the celebration of life, the idea of Mix & Match was born. A special event held annually, it brings together patients and families whose lives have been affected by leukemia and other diseases treatable by bone marrow transplants. It is more than just an afternoon of education, sharing and support; for those who need it most, it is a breath of fresh air and a precious time of healing.
On May 20, 2017 the Icla da Silva foundation hosted a Mix & Match event at the InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel, in New York City. Quite literally a mix of people from all walks of life, this amazing afternoon provided a safe place for those who have carried much. The stories shared were honest, beautiful, inspiring, heartbreaking and sometimes, raw. Everyone sat riveted by the captivating life stories of conquering adversity, pouring from the heart.
It was a wonderful time of connection as each former and current patient, their family support circles and their bone marrow donors had a chance to share their own stories. Emotions bubbled over as awe-inspiring testimonies filled the space between hearts. Some attendees were bone marrow transplant recipients now living normal lives. Others, at various stages of the journey, are still waiting to find their perfect bone marrow match through channels like the Be The Match Registry.
As always, the personal connections made at Mix & Match were real and lasting. Everyone who shared their story felt validated and supported by people who truly understood. Everyone who listened was able to walk away with assured and encouraged. For those awaiting a bone marrow match, the stories provided crucial footholds on a journey of hope. For others who had already received a successful transplant and a new a lease on life itself, there was an immense outpouring of gratitude; and the challenge to assist and encourage others who are now walking the same road. Every life deserves to be celebrated.
See more photos from the event here.
PATIENT STORY: Victor Garcia
The inspirational Victor Garcia, and his adorable little sister, Nayyelyn, are two faces you are not likely to forget. Theirs is a beautiful example that where there is love, anything is possible. The dynamic duo has given us something to celebrate here at The Icla da Silva Foundation and we know you will love them just as much as we do.
Victor is the sweetest 11-year-old boy you may ever meet. He is also a shining example of how terrible adversity is able to cultivate strength and dignity, even in the young. Like any fun-loving and shy boy his age, he has an insatiable passion for Legos, cars and Pokémon. When he is not playing with any of these three collections, he is happily watching Youtube videos about them!
Hailing from La Romana in The Dominican Republic, the Garcias were connected with The Icla da Silva Foundation when they discovered the local hospitals did not have sufficient resources to perform the bone marrow transplant Victor desperately needed.
Victor’s journey with Acute Biphenotypic Leukemia (ABL), an uncommon mix of both kinds of acute leukemias, started in the spring of 2015. The doctors determined that Victor needed a bone marrow transplant in order to live. With the help of The Icla da Silva Foundation, Victor’s younger sister, Nayyelyn, was tested to see if she was a match. While a patient has the highest chance of finding a match among their siblings, that chance is only 30%, so when Nayyelyn’s results came back stating that she was a 100% match for her big brother, his mother Ana was so grateful.
Nayyelyn knew her brother was very sick so when Ana explained to her that she has the cure for her big brother inside of her body she knew what she had to do.
Nayyelyn, Victor’s little sister, is a lively seven-year-old with big dreams for the future. Her zest for life lights up the room and she absolutely loves to be the center of attention. Her current passions are Hello Kitty, Anna (from Frozen) and fashion; especially anything pink, purple or blue.
Nayyelyn is the perfect example of the wisdom and strength children often exhibit when faced with life-threatening situations. She took her role as her brother’s donor very seriously and she is extremely proud of her choice. When asked if she was scared about the procedure she replied,
“I wasn’t scared when they told me what I needed to do because I love my big brother and I knew I wanted to save his life.”
The Icla da Silva Foundation started assisting the Garcia family in November 2015. The chain of events in Victor’s journey also initiated close communication between Victor’s doctor, his mother Ana, and the Foundation.
After months of detailed planning between doctors, social workers, consulates and the Foundation, Victor was accepted for treatment under a clinical trial at Yale New Haven Teaching Hospital in Connecticut. The Foundation started making arrangements to get Victor, Ana and Nayyelyn to Yale for his life-saving transplant. Victor finally arrived in the United States in August 2016. The Icla da Silva Foundation is grateful to the fantastic Ronald McDonald House in New Haven where he and his family have stayed during his treatment and recovery.
On September 19th Victor was admitted to the hospital and he began the week long process of preparing for the transplant.
Nayyelyn was admitted for her bone marrow donation on September 26, 2016. She went into the procedure with the same sense of pride and duty she exhibited when she found out she could be her brother’s donor.The donation went perfectly. The bag of her life saving marrow was taken to Victor a few moments later and the next leg of his journey began.
Victor was discharged about a month after his transplant. Unfortunately, November brought both the winter and another extended visit to the hospital for Victor, who was being closely monitored for signs the crucial bone marrow transplant would be rejected. This time, however, the culprit was an infection – a nasty but treatable one – which left him in recovery for another month.
The medication caused weakness, exhaustion, peeling skin and shaky hands, but it completely cleared the infection and Victor made it through. All was on track for an amazing recovery and a long life ahead for this inspirational young man. Amazingly determined, he was declared healthy and triumphantly discharged by Christmas Eve 2016.
After spending time all this time with the Garcias, Johanna, the Program Coordinator at The Icla da Silva Foundation had fallen head over heels in love with this beautiful family. Johanna’s own story of hope changed in 2010 and her idea had already started to form. She knew that Victor and Nayyelyn were special, and deserved to be recognized for the light they shone into the world.
After Christmas, Victor was on the mend, eagerly awaiting to be cleared for a sightseeing trip to NYC. Victor was due home in February but his doctors delayed the trip until he was well enough to travel. Time was short and Johanna had a plan.
On a secret mission, Johanna arranged a fantastic two-day adventure for the family with a few hidden gems around each bend. Little did they realize how fantastic the final surprise would be! Click here to read about how The New York Yankees took the two little Garcias and their support team on an amazing adventure with some pretty memorable chaperones.
The Icla da Silva Foundation has loved watching Victor’s fighting spirit on the road to recovery. His doctors continue to monitor Victor’s progress, making certain his new cancer-free blood cells are multiplying properly. He is getting stronger each day. His cell count keeps climbing and he is slowly being allowed to be a normal kid again, but none of this would have been possible without his life-saving donor and little sister Nayyelyn.
Icla did not find a match all those years ago, but in her memory, the Foundation has been able to help so many families in the United States and all over the world. Register to be more like Nayyelyn. If you would like to support the Foundation’s Patient Services, the program that saved Victor’s life, please go.
Like Nayyelyn, you are the key to a long and happy life for big brothers like Victor.
An Incredible Day at #HopeWeek with the Yankees
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.