CYPRESS — Although 8-year-old Steven Guardado was too weak from a recent dose of chemotherapy to attend a blood drive held in his honor Saturday, scores of people showed up at a shopping center here to make sure he wins his battle with lymphatic leukemia.
Guardado, of La Palma, was found to have the disease almost a year ago. It's been in remission for the last five months, but his doctors said the cancer can flare up at any time. After undergoing intense periods of chemotherapy, the boy has grown weak and now weighs only 70 pounds, 20 pounds lighter than his twin brother Seth.
Saturday's drive with the American Red Cross will help supply blood for him in the event he needs transfusions. Otherwise, the donated blood will be made available to other patients.
"We've had amazing support for Steven," said his aunt Elaine Bailey, who greeted donors at the Cypress shopping center on Valley View Street. "These people are helping not only Steven, but other children who are ill."
The all-day event was organized by Guardado's family, friends and local merchants who said they were moved by the boy's battle with cancer.
"Sometimes you forget how lucky you are, and this is a small way of giving back to the community," said Ursula Walsh, a salon owner who drummed up support from local businesses.
Store owners like Walsh also donated proceeds and prizes for a raffle drawing at the drive. Games, music, face painting and clowns entertained visitors and donors. And the National Marrow Donor Program opened a booth to enlist prospective donors.
The organization, however, was not seeking a matching donor for Guardado on Saturday because his condition is not advanced enough to make him eligible for a transplant. His doctors said Guardado has a 70% chance of survival.
"We're here to raise an awareness of the need for marrow donors," said recruiter Anissa Ayala-Espinosa. She said that if Guardado ever becomes a candidate for a transplant, finding a matching donor would be difficult because only 7% of those who register to donate are Hispanic.
"It's such a simple thing [to donate], but it could mean so much to another person," said donor applicant Robert Miyashiro of Garden Grove. Miyashiro said he went to the drive because he had just turned 18, the minimum age required to become a marrow donor. "To me, it's a rite of passage, something you do when you turn 18."
Some who came to the benefit drove from as far as Rowland Heights and other parts of the greater Los Angeles area. Blood donor Kay Cane said she showed up for the cause because she knows the value of donating first hand.
"My husband had a heart transplant eight years ago," Cane, 56, said. "If it weren't for a donor, he would have never been able to walk down the aisle with my daughter when she got married. This is about giving the gift of life."