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A sister's gift means life for teenager stricken with leukemia

Sonny Long

By Sonny Long
March 29, 2013 at 4:05 p.m.
Updated March 29, 2013 at 10:30 p.m.

Sitting on his grandmother's sofa in the family's home on Anthony Street, Frank Diaz lll can barely keep his eyes open to watch the "Dan Patrick Show" on ESPN TV. Although in remission from leukemia, Frank still struggles to regain full strength and can manage to attend school only two days a week.

Frank Diaz III owes his life to his little sister.

"She saved my life. She's my hero," Frank said.

Frank, 16, was diagnosed with leukemia in April 2011. Maryssa Diaz's bone marrow was a match, and a transplant was performed at University Hospital in San Antonio on March 20, 2012.

Maryssa, 15, recalls waking from surgery "in a lot of pain. It hurt, but the pride of helping him overpowered that."

Frank stayed in the hospital until May, but it hasn't been easy.

A lack of appetite because of sores in his mouth landed Frank back in the hospital, his weight dropping from 135 to 88 pounds.

"His body was trying to reject her bone marrow," said Frank's mother, Maria Diaz. "He was taking 20 pills a day. He wasn't eating. It was a difficult time.

"It took a few months, but he started eating more and gaining the weight back."

Lab work in February provided Frank and Maria a surprise - no cancer cells.

"As much as we wanted to scream at the world, Frankie had a plan," said Maria. "He wanted to surprise everyone."

So, to show his appreciation for Maryssa's gift, Frank gave a little of himself back March 2 at her quinceanera.

Frank surprised his sister with a dozen roses and danced with her to Mariah Cary's song "Hero."

"I thought people teared up a lot during the father-daughter dance, but his had the tears flowing," said Frank's father, Frank Diaz II.

Then came the biggest surprise of all.

"I announced to everyone that my cancer was in remission," Frank said. "Everyone was cheering and crying at the same time. It was awesome to see everybody applauding and crying. It let me know that people cared. I couldn't stop smiling."

Maryssa said she didn't realize what was happening at first.

"After I soaked it all in, I was overwhelmed," she said. "I cried tears of joy and happiness. It was a big day for me."

Despite the remission, Frank still has good days and bad days.

He makes twice a week trips to the hospital in San Antonio for blood treatments to help his body continue to accept the bone marrow transplant.

"He has always stayed positive and has great support," his mother said. "His friends and the school have always been there for him."

Building Trades students at Bloomington High School constructed a porch at the Diaz house, so Frank could sit outside when weather permits.

"His friends come and visit. They play games. They keep him company," Maria said.

Frank, who has a port in his chest that has to be protected from contamination, has his eyes on returning to athletics at Bloomington High.

"He's determined to get back to exercising and lifting weights and playing basketball," his mother said. "He is anxious to get back to school."

"Basketball is his passion," added his father, who works for the city of Victoria. "He also loves football and being around the softball complex where I play on a team."

Although he's been in and out of school since being diagnosed, the Bloomington High School football team honored Frank with a game jersey at last year's homecoming game.

"It made me feel like I was still part of the team," said the sophomore, who is being home-schooled.

Frank Diaz II and Maria are proud of both of Frank III and Maryssa.

"At the hospital in San Antonio, the doctors and nurses praised him for his attitude and work ethic," his father said. "He was determined."

His mother said Maryssa fought her personal fears to help her brother.

"She doesn't like needles at all, and she had never had surgery of any kind," their mother said. "But, she said she'd do it again if she has to. For her brother."



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