Nothing can bring a small town together like a serious illness or injury to a child. That’s what is happening with the Town of Lloyd and the Highland Central School District, who are circling the wagons around 7-year-old Alexandra Malheiro and her family, as she was recently diagnosed with acute leukemia.
“Her father called me and he was hysterical, as any parent would be,” said Town of Lloyd supervisor Paul Hansut, who has coached with Alexandra’s father, Joe Malheiro, for various town Little League baseball all-star teams. “They took her to a doctor because of some general complaints; the blood work comes back and she’s rushed to Westchester Medical Pediatric ICU [Intensive Care Unit] for acute leukemia.”
After spending 12 days in the ICU, Alexandra, whom everyone characterizes as a real spitfire and joyous spirit, was allowed to return home. But she is undergoing intensive chemotherapy.
Within days of the news, friends organized a tee-shirt drive with “Fight like a Girl: Team Alexandra!” printed on them. “A week ago they had already sold 1,000 shirts!” said Hansut. “That’s what community is about: everyone coming together when someone is in need. These are the nicest people you could ever meet. They would do anything for anyone and give you the shirt off their back. Their three kids [including her two brothers, Matt, 11 and Michael, 13] are wonderful kids: polite, respectful. And Alexandra is one heck of a ballplayer.”
Hansut is helping to coordinate a large fundraiser for the family to help offset what are sure to be astounding medical costs, trips to Westchester and loss of work so that they can take care of their child. “The outpouring of support has been unbelievable,” said Hansut, who noted that the fundraiser will take place at the Tony Williams Field on Sept. 15 from 1 to 7 p.m. “Gourmet To-Go out of Millbrook has donated all of the food, the tents, the deejay for the event. You just can’t put a pricetag on that kind of generosity.”
There will also be a “huge raffle” sponsored by the Highland Teachers’ Association, as Alexandra’s mother Stacey works for the district part-time. All proceeds will go directly to the family, and Hansut said that if anyone wanted to learn more, to help out or donate raffle prizes, to give him a shout at 750-4672.
Originally from Brooklyn, the Malheiros moved to Highland seven years ago to raise their three children. Asked how their daughter was doing, Joe said, “She’s holding up good. Her spirits are up, but she can get very tired during the day because of the chemo.” Asked about the support that they had been receiving, he became teary. “We are overwhelmed, very humbled. It’s amazing how people have come together.”
As this is any parent’s nightmare, Stacey admitted that it “has been hard. It’s been shocking and devastating that my little girl, just 11 days ago, was diagnosed with leukemia. You’re in a fog.”
That said, Stacey was quick to point out that it has been her daughter who has “given me strength. She’s been such a trouper, and she’s not naïve. She knows exactly what’s going on. To think about what she’s been through in the last 11 days, and how positive and spirited she’s remained, inspires me when I’m afraid. I’ll never give up on her. We have to get through this; we will get through this, no matter what it takes!”
As for the response from the community, Stacey became choked up. “If we still lived in the City, we would never have this support,” she said. “This whole community and my dear friends have gone above and beyond. I’m so grateful. There are no words.”
Stacey works part-time in the Highland School cafeteria and as a New York State Thruway toll collector to make ends meet. “I had to take a leave of absence from my toll-collecting job because I have to take care of our daughter,” she said. “But this school district has been so amazing to our family, and I’m going to keep working there. It’s three hours a day when my kids are in school and when Alexandra will have a home tutor.”
Send your positive thoughts to this family and Alexandra. Childhood leukemia has a high rate of complete recovery, but the road there is long and arduous.
To order a tee-shirt, go to http://www.facebook.com/events/377161219017822. A fundraising car wash to benefit the Malheiro family will be held this Saturday, Aug. 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at McDonald’s in Highland.