Like many service members, Enrique Ramirez felt compelled to defend our nation following the 9/11 terror attacks. Just eight weeks later, he enlisted with the Navy, where spent the next 14 years before being honorably discharged to pursue a new career at ALSAC/St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Ramirez is now a bilingual liaison on the Patient Family Outreach Team for American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC), the awareness organization for St. Jude, but he says he never anticipated this career path.
Just seven years after he decided to join the Navy, 2nd Class Petty Officer Ramirez and his wife, Leticia, received the unimaginable news that their daughter Arianna was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer called ATRT. While Enrique and Leticia were aware of St. Jude before they received Arianna’s diagnosis, they didn’t realize the world-class care and assistance they would soon receive.
“We knew about St. Jude because we lived in Memphis before we moved to Japan where she was diagnosed,” Enrique said. “We didn’t know how much they did actually take care of though until we arrived and began treatment in August 2009. We quickly learned that St. Jude didn’t only take care of the medical treatment, but they also took care of housing and food while in treatment among other things that were taken care of while Arianna was in treatment.”
Arianna went into remission after her initial treatment and was cancer-free for a year and a half, so she was able to travel with her family to New York, where they met a young man named Markell who was receiving treatment for osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer) and his mother, Monique, and they quickly formed a close bond.
“Our time with Markell and his family was and has always been special,” Enrique said. “St. Jude families all share a special bond because we all understand what each other is going for as we all fight for our kids’ lives. Markell’s personality was contagious and he always gravitated people towards him. He always enjoyed spending time with our family, like we did theirs, so any time we could spend time together we made it a point to do so.”
Monique and Markell were by Enrique and Leticia’s sides to offer continued support when Arianna’s aggressive cancer returned and they received the devastating news her treatment was no longer working. Arianna passed away in 2014 just before her 8th birthday. Enrique and Leticia were also by Monique’s side when Markell succumbed to bone cancer at just 16 years of age in 2016 after enduring six and a half years of treatment, including having his leg amputated. While sharing this lifelong bond was not really something they thought of, Enrique admits, “It just naturally happened as normal bonds do.”
Over the years, the bond they share between their “one big family” brought together by St. Jude remains strong as they have both dealt with the loss of their child to cancer. Enrique continues to honor Arianna’s legacy by assisting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through his fundraising efforts.
He credits his military experience with helping him on his new mission working for ALSAC.
“My veteran experience helps in a number of ways,” he said, “specifically the ability to multi-task and work really well under pressure.”Read comments