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2017 Children's Parade Marshal - Michael Garcia

In February of 2015, Mary Ann Salera-Garcia and her husband, Earl Garcia, were just returning to normalcy after their infant son, Ethan, had just spent many tense weeks as an inpatient at Lurie Children’s Hospital, battling a life-threatening bout of RSV. While the young couple held vigil at their critically-ill son’s side, his older brother, Michael became increasingly closer to the close-knit family’s extended circle of relatives, including his grandparents, Dave Stejkowski and Maria Garcia, and his great-grandmother, Rosemarie Stejkowski. Michael developed a poor appetite and was found to have an abdominal mass. Within hours, he was diagnosed with childhood liver cancer. This cancer is so rare, it affects only one in a million children. Michael spent the majority of 2015 in and out of Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago while experts fought to save his life.

Michael’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends all rallied to his support. The journey was chronicled on a private Facebook page that reached all the way to relatives in the Phillipines. Mary Ann’s father, Eustaquio Salera passed away in April of 2015, and she was unable to travel to the Phillipines due to Michael’s intense treatment. But the community rallied around them. Nurses who worked with Grandma Maria gave freely of their time to help care for Michael. Jana Basch and Peggy Michalik of Play Palz, Michael’s day care, organized fundraisers to help with expenses. Mary Ann’s fellow employees at Riverside Medical Center donated hours of leave so she could be with Michael during treatment. Friends Lyra Bustamante and Laura Guimond, helped care for Michael when he could no longer attend day care.

Throughout the many rounds of chemotherapy, major surgery to remove the tumor, and multiple invasive procedures, this bright, responsive, heroic little toddler never stopped being brave or showing us his beautiful smile. Thanks to his family, his doctors, the support of friends, and his own fighting spirit, Michael is now a happy, healthy, and cancer-free 4-year-old. He reminds us all to be courageous in spirit, and is a young boy’s example of how family, love, community, and friendship bind us together in times of trouble.

Michael lives in Bourbonnais with his parents and brother, 2-year-old Ethan. He is a preschooler at Bishop McNamara Catholic School, and a member of Maternity B.V.M. Catholic Church. Michael loves swimming and playing with his Paw Patrol collection, and his Power Rangers. He loves to play his Grandpa Dave’s drums, and enjoyed his trip to Disney World that Make-A-Wish Foundation provided for him last fall.