Community rallies as local kids battle leukemia

Mariliz Leon-Mejia, 7, and her brother, Isair, 6, pose together at the hospital. Isair has Leukemia and is undergoing treatment.

Two local families received news no parent wants to hear, but they aren’t alone in the fight. South County has pulled together to help the families of Isair Leon-Mejia, 6, and Taylor Burden, 2, both of whom were diagnosed with leukemia this summer.

On Sept. 22, Yasemin Gadelhak hosted an hour-long dance fitness class in Cannon Beach, raising $1,500 for the families. A new fundraiser takes place Wednesday, Nov. 11, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Gearhart Bowl and Fultano’s Pizza, 3518 Highway 101 Gearhart. The goal is to help offset medical costs of leukemia treatments.

The community has also set up bank and GoFundMe accounts to provide medical assistance and support.

Isair’s mother, Julie, said they began to notice something was wrong with her son around the Fourth of July. Isair was quiet, fatigued and had no appetite — unusual for the “food fanatic.”

“We thought he was coming down with a cold,” she said. “We didn’t think much of it.”

Julie and her husband, José, made a doctor’s appointment for him, but Isair later developed a fever and swollen glands while visiting family. They took him to the ER, where doctors initially thought he had strep throat. Then Julie questioned his symptoms.

Medical staff ran blood tests and started an IV immediately. Julie learned that Isair was anemic and possibly had leukemia, a blood cell cancer.

“Everything paused at that moment,” she said. “I had to hold myself together.”

Doctors gave Isair a blood transfusion and rushed him to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. His immune system was so weak, he was kept at the hospital for the next five days.

They ended up in a hotel until a room in the Ronald McDonald House opened. They stayed there before moving to a floor dedicated to Ronald McDonald at the Marriott.

Finally, on Sept. 8, the family got to come home.

“He really started progressing,” Julie said.

When Isair blamed himself for the disease, his mother reassured him it was nothing he’d done.

Isair now receives a blood count and treatment in Portland every Tuesday and has a 90 percent chance of recovery. Since his diagnosis, the Leon-Mejias have spoken with a child specialist who told them not to hide anything from the boy.

They’ve also alerted his teachers of what’s going on. Isair can go to school, but he can’t be as physically active with a tube inserted to help clean his blood.

It hurts sometimes, Isair gets tired quicker and his hair is staring to fall out, but he finally got his appetite back.

“Every now and then it’s too much for him,” Julie said, but Isair’s siblings have helped make life seem as it did before. Isair’s older sister, Mariliz, 7, also knows what’s going on and watches out for him.

Since the ordeal, Julie noted they’ve learned just how common leukemia is among youth. It’s the most common cancer in children and teens, according to the American Cancer Society.

They want to use their experience to help other families better understand the signs.

Taylen, of Wheeler, passed out at home in August. He was rushed to a nearby Urgent Care, then to Providence Seaside Hospital and later Doernbecher’s, where he too was diagnosed with leukemia.

He, like Isair, will need three years of chemotherapy in Portland, Gadelhak said.

Donations for “Tough Taylen” may be made online at or to an account in his name at U.S. Bank.

Donations for Isair may be made at or by depositing a check into an account titled the “Isair Leon-Mejia Benefit Fund” at Wells Fargo Bank.

Employees at Escape Lodging in Cannon Beach started Isair’s GoFundMe page, and invited the community to help.

“The tyranny of illness doesn’t need to be made harder by the compounding effects of lost wages, frequent treatments requiring travel, and the costs of moving,” they said.

The family is looking for a new place to live as Isair needs a mold-free environment.

The Leon-Mejia family also wants to give back after all the assistance they have received. Julie said they are collecting pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House and encourage others to do the same.

The Nov. 11 fundraiser is $15 per person, which includes two games of bowling and a pizza and soda buffet. A sealed bid silent auction will be held, proceeds to be split between the families of Taylen and Isair.


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