Dec. 20, 2014 – San Diego Union Tribune
By Peter Rowe
All Aaron Sanchez wants for Christmas is a home for his homeless family

When Santa Claus met 9-year-old Aaron Sanchez at Rady Children’s Hospital last week, the bearded guy asked his usual question: “What would you like for Christmas?”

Aaron gave his usual reply: “A house.”

That’s been Aaron’s plea ever since he was diagnosed with cancer. His mother, Adella Martinez, quit her job as a caretaker to care for her son. Without a paycheck, she could no longer afford to pay rent. For more than a month, the family of four has been spending nights with family and friends.

“It’s a tragic story,” said Richard Nares, co-founder and executive director of the Emilio Nares Foundation, a nonprofit that delivers needy patients like Aaron to medical appointments. “The mom moves around a lot because they don’t have a home.”

There’s never a good time to be homeless, especially for a single parent. Aaron’s father is no longer around, so Martinez is the only adult raising Aaron, his 10-year-old brother, Sydney, and sister, Cheryl, 16. Tough duty, made even tougher since one of those kids is fighting for his life.

“We can’t do this any more,” Martinez said. “It’s too hard on Aaron.”

Like most 9-year-olds, Aaron is a fan of fun. A fourth-grader, his favorite class was P.E. (“We get to play,” he noted.) He loves softball, “Call of Duty” video games and “Adventure Time” cartoons. Yet when the Make A Wish Foundation offered to fulfill his most ardent desire — an Xbox? a trip to Disney World? — he asked for a house.

Last week, he repeated this request to St. Nick, but the jolly old elf misunderstood. Filling Aaron’s arms with a stuffed Mr. Potato Head, he dispatched the boy with a promise.

“I’m going to come by your house in a week.”

That could be a problem.

With the flow

No one’s sure how this happened. “Aaron was a healthy young boy,” Martinez said, “always running, always smiling.”

“Always eating,” Aaron said.

“Yes,” Martinez said with a smile, “that too.”

Two months ago, Aaron suffered a seizure. Then another, another, another. He was hospitalized, biopsied, rolled into surgery. Martinez was there every day, hoping for good news.

Instead, the doctors told her this: “Mom, we need to talk.”

Aaron had adrenal cortical cancer, a lethal disease that requires aggressive treatment. The boy has undergone several five-day bouts of chemotherapy. The next round starts the day after Christmas.

No longer able to attend school, Aaron is tired, weak, sore. He ingests dozens of pills a day. His siblings work hard to cheer their baby brother, usually an easy task.

“All my kids are good,” Martinez said. “But out of all three, he never complains. He’ll go with the flow.”

The flow sometimes involves waiting for another blood test, to ensure he didn’t need a transfusion before undergoing chemotherapy. Clutching Mr. Potato Head to his chest, he leaned over to address a stranger.

“About the house,” he whispered. “It could be a house or it could be an apartment.”

Christmas wish

Last week, Martinez and her three children were living in a Vista studio owned by a friend, Maryanne Wallace.

“She has a heart of gold,” Martinez said. “But we can’t keep doing this.”

Hope is on the horizon — the family is on a waiting list for a Section 8 housing voucher. But this may take another eight weeks or longer.

Wallace and other friends are trying to raise enough money for the family to rent a place. It doesn’t have to be big, but it would be nice if there was a bedroom where Aaron could rest between appointments.

“And a car,” Aaron said. “I forgot — we need a car.”

For now, the Emilio Nares Foundation’s vans deliver Aaron to the hospital. The nonprofit ferries 25 to 35 patients a week, Richard Nares said, traveling 40,000-plus miles a year.

The group also supplied the Santa Claus who embraced Aaron last week, plus 350 gifts for Children’s inpatients and outpatients. Moreover, the foundation is collecting donations to help house Aaron and his family. Maybe, then, Santa will be able to fulfill a sick little boy’s Christmas wish.

And maybe his mom will receive her most treasured present.

“Forget the Christmas gifts,” Martinez said. “As long as I can hug my child another day, see him laugh again.”