Miracles do happen... just ask this Lower Valley family

Bridgett Maldonado was just four months old when she was diagnosed with having the final stages of Neural Blastoma, She endured almost a year of aggressive treatment, but never lost her beautiful smile.

This weekend, families, friends and cancer survivors will walk, run and sleep at the Grandview High School stadium as they take a stand against cancer and raise money through the American Cancer Society Relay for Life

But 9-year-old Bridgett Maldonado and her family already know what it takes to defeat the odds: persistence, determination, love and lots of faith.

Bridgett's parents, Priscilla and Victor, tried to start a family for eight long years before being blessed with their oldest child Victoria and then, just a year later, with Bridgett.

Bridgett was an exceptionally well behaved baby, Priscilla said, eating lots of food, sleeping through the night and rarely ever crying.

But suddenly, at about four months old, Bridgett began to change. She slept constantly during the day, eventually having to be woken up even to eat, and even then Priscilla had to force her to take food.

And then, there was the crying. She had gone from a baby who never fussed to one who was inconsolable.

Realizing something was wrong, Priscilla took Bridgett in to see a pediatrician at Memorial Hospital in Yakima. The doctor examined Bridgett several times over the next couple weeks, always drawing the same conclusion: Bridgett was fine.

But Priscilla knew better. She watched her daughter carefully and brought her into the hospital with each new and strange symptom.

At one point, Bridgett's left eye became swollen and red. After the examination, where the doctor felt and inspected the eye, it became purple and bruised.

Again, the doctor assured Priscilla there was no cause for concern.

But one day, Priscilla realized that Bridgett's pupil had dropped and was no longer moving.

The doctor assured Priscilla that there was nothing wrong with her daughter.

The frustration and agitation Priscilla felt during this period is indescribable. The new mother even questioned whether she was imagining the whole thing, but her husband assured her she was not.

It was not until Priscilla brought Bridgett into the Yakima Valley Farm Worker's clinic that she finally got confirmation something was wrong. The nurse who examined Bridgett saw the dropped pupil.

Bridgett was happy that finally a medical professional saw what she had been seeing in her daughter all along.

Priscilla took Bridgett to the emergency room and the staff decided to run a CT scan and x-rays.

They informed the family that Bridgett did, indeed, have something wrong with her. It was a tumor located behind her right eye.

Priscilla was relieved. Not that her daughter was sick, but that they had finally found what was wrong with Bridgett. However, it did not strike Priscilla as cancer just then.

"My family, we didn't have cancer. It was something we never dealt with."

Bridgett was flown out to Seattle Children's Hospital. Priscilla and her husband had to drive there themselves.

While there, and following several extensive and invasive tests, it was discovered the infant had Neural Blastoma and she was in the fourth and final stage of the cancer.

It finally hit Priscilla what was happening to her baby. The doctor informed her that Bridgett's chances of survival were less than 10 percent.

"Go ahead and call your family, prepare for a funeral," Priscilla recalled the doctor telling her.

But the Maldonado's were not going to let their daughter go without a fight.

After much consideration and prayer, the family asked the doctor to begin treatment.

Though skeptical, the doctor agreed but informed the family treatment would be harsh, especially for a baby, and that Bridgett might not survive it.

"I thought, I'm not going to let her go because they tell me that, because I know that God is more powerful and can work miracles, so I would leave that up to Him."

The doctors discovered that Bridgett had seven tumors in her body, located in her chest, her abdomen and the main one behind her right eye.

So the Maldonado's settled in for a long haul. Their oldest child mostly stayed with family while Priscilla and Victor were given housing in Seattle during the treatment.

Bridgett began chemotherapy. They started her on a low level, but quickly elevated her treatment to full strength when it became clear that Bridgett could handle anything the doctors threw at her.

And handle it she did. Bridgett did very well. She had two ports put into her chest to allow the medical staff easy access for giving Bridgett medicine or withdrawing fluid.

Bridgett also needed a feeding tube, which Priscilla learned to insert herself because Bridgett, and all babies for that matter, was notorious for pulling hers out.

In the end, after months of chemotherapy, scans were done and it was discovered that the seven tumors that had once been so life threatening, were gone.

Bridgett did have surgery to explore a tumor in her abdomen, but it was, thankfully, discovered to be benign.

But Bridgett and her family were not in the clear just yet. They were taken onto the next round of treatment, which was a bone marrow transplant.

Doctors had pulled stem cells from Bridgett when she started chemotherapy and those were used to create the bone marrow during this part of the treatment.

Priscilla was warned that she would have to keep a close eye on Bridgett and informed that many things could go wrong during the treatment.

But Bridgett persisted and performed well during the entire procedure.

"She always had a smile on her face," Priscilla recalled of the month long treatment which concluded with radiation.

Through it all, Priscilla turned to her faith for strength in the hardest of times. She was often disconnected from her other daughter, Victoria, and even her husband. But it was particularly hard to watch her baby being poked, prodded and continually in pain.

Still, Priscilla did her best to ensure that Bridgett never saw her cry and at the end of it all, she is very proud of how her family, and Bridgett, survived the whole ordeal.

Even after nearly a year of aggressive cancer treatment, Bridgett had to routinely return to the Seattle Children's Hospital for check-ups. She remains at high risk for skin cancer, but the check-ups have gone from every three months, to every year, and now, every two years.

The long term dangers and effects are still very real. Bridgett is partially deaf and legally blind. She cannot see from her right eye, behind which had been the first and most life threatening tumor.

Her growth was also significantly stunted, so the 9-year-old is often mistaken for being considerably younger.

Education has also been a problem. Priscilla made the decision to home school her two children after one of Bridgett's teachers, she said, proved incapable of handling a child as special as her.

And considering that Bridgett beat the odds, endured an aggressive treatment process and came out the other end smiling, it is safe to say that Bridgett is indeed one special little girl.

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