Jennifer Friales, a sweet fourth grader from the Philippines, recently celebrated her 9th birthday with Ronald McDonald and friends at a party in Manila.
But she may not see her 10th. She suffers from Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that gives her a misshapen face. She is barely recognizable as a little girl. The aggressive cancer has created a tumor, swelling up her face and forcing her eyes to be separated on either side of her head. It's difficult to distinguish her nose and her mouth.
But Maya's Hope, a nonprofit group that works to improve the quality of life of orphaned, impoverished, and special-needs children, is working to give her a chance at a longer and better life. An online fundraising website has raised more than $2,000 of a $100,000 goal for her care.
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"Jennifer Allen is the most medically fragile child in our program," said Maya Crauderueff, the president and namesake of Maya's Hope. "The ultimate goal is to get her to a facility in the U.S. that can provide medical treatment for the cancer and then get her the surgery she needs."
The group is desperately trying to find a doctor in the United States who will take up her case. The disease, which affects 300 people a year in North America, rarely affects children in the way that it has Jennifer, said Dr. Leo Mascarenhas, the deputy director of the Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
Most young children with Ewing's sarcoma have tumors in their pelvis and limbs. Without treatment, there is less than a 20 percent chance of surviving Ewing's if it spreads to the bone marrow or bones, said Mascarenhas.
That's why finding Jennifer a doctor is so urgent and she's not getting the care she needs in the Philippines, Crauderueff said. Crauderueff recalls meeting Jennifer in 2015 in Manila. She and her mother had been waiting for hours in a parking lot to see a doctor at a hospital there.
"She wasn't seeing a doctor," Crauderueff said. "I thought it was a simple surgery and that she just needed a tumor taken out."
But then Crauderueff learned about the disease and publicized her plight. She's gotten chemotherapy in her home country, but needs surgery.
Maya's Hope spread the word on Facebook. Her story made national news in the Philippines.
Her loved ones are in anguish.
Jennifer's mom, Leah, left her job at a pet store in Malaysia to take care of her daughter full time.
In an email from the Philippines, Leah said she hopes that one day her daughter will get to go back to school where she was top of her class.
"Everyone loves her," she said. "We need to be strong, keep praying for Jennifer."