From RecordNet.com, Joe Goldeen, 12 Jun 2011.
As she turns 15, Berenice Jasso knows no gift can top the one she’s already received
STOCKTON [CA] – Berenice Jasso made a wish, and it came true Saturday.
A year ago, on her 14th birthday, the giddy, girly farm worker’s daughter from rural Escalon was in the fight of her life, greeting each day as if it might be her last because of a condition that the best minds in medical science have no name for.
Saturday, she lived life as a princess at her dream quinceañera in the ballroom of the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel in downtown Stockton, organized by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Sacramento and Northeastern California.
Her rocky journey started almost two years ago. All the doctors could tell her and her family then was that her kidneys were failing. Within a year of that diagnosis, both kidneys were removed. Berenice lived four months without kidneys until December, when a transplanted kidney removed from her mother, Maria, 50, was implanted in Berenice’s small body.
For 18 months, Maria and her husband, Jesus, 52, lived with the fear and knowledge that at any time, their daughter could go into uncontrollable convulsions, gasping for breath, or wake up blind, or swell up like a grapefruit, or fall into a coma, or lose her memory – all conditions she experienced and survived to talk about today.
Although she doesn’t like to talk about what her life was like “back then. It makes me sad. I try not to remember those days. People want to know, but I just say I got sick. My friends know it makes me sad, so they don’t even talk about it,” Berenice said just hours before the biggest day of her new life arrived Saturday.
Her quinceañera is a Latino tradition celebrating a girl’s 15th birthday and marks her transition from childhood to womanhood. For Berenice and her family, however, Saturday was so much more.
“For me, I am too much happy, because I see my daughter happy. It’s a new life for her and for me. We give thanks to God for the miracle of life,” an emotional Jesus Jasso said after the traditional dance with his daughter to the tune of “Tus 15 años” in front of 275 guests in the spectacularly decorated ballroom, all done by volunteers with Make-A-Wish.
Maria Jasso, who has recovered quickly and fully living with just one kidney, wanted all the attention focused on her daughter and the many family and friends attending the quinceañera who helped during the darkest days of Berenice’s illness.
“This is the day that my daughter had wanted for a really long time, because there was a moment when we thought she wouldn’t make it, and for a lot of people here today, they helped us get through this. I waited anxiously for this day to celebrate Berenice’s 15th birthday,” she said in Spanish translated by her niece, Esmeralda Castro of Seattle.
Castro also translated for Jesus Jasso, who added that today, “Hugging my daughter is very emotional in my heart because I didn’t think I’d be able to see her again. I give thanks to God for not taking her.”
Francisco Grajeda, 17, who has known Berenice for several years and considers her like a little sister, said the day was important to him because it recognizes “one friend is there for another. It feels good for me inside that everything went good for her in surgery. She was there for me when I needed her, and I prayed for her every day when she was sick. I thank God that she’s here today.”
Elia Madruga, a longtime family friend, said Berenice’s quinceañera is unique because “it’s more than just a celebration of her 15th birthday; it’s a celebration of her new life.”
Neici Becerra, a favorite teacher of Berenice’s who traveled all the way from her new home in Kodiak, Alaska, to be at the quinceañera, added that “today is a celebration of the beginning of a lot more to come from her.” She recalled how, even during her long stays in the hospital, Berenice showed her compassionate side for the other child patients, making them smile and taking their minds off their illnesses.
Berenice, who joined up with her friends as a freshman at Escalon High School in January, still has some catching up to do, especially in math and science, but her report card shows straight A’s for the classes she was able to complete. She will start next fall as a sophomore. She intends to go to college to study forensics and become either a crime-scene investigator or an FBI agent.
Dr. Lavjay Butani, Berenice’s specialist and a renowned pediatric nephrologist with the UC Davis Health System in Sacramento, was an honored guest at the quinceañera, his first.
“I think it was so special that Berenice was able to get here. We’re glad we could be part of it,” he said, noting that for Berenice’s future, “anything is doable if you take some care.” He said she is currently taking four medications regularly that are critical for her continued good health. Eventually, that could be cut down, but she will always remain on two medications. Her donated kidney could last for as long as 25 years, at which time she could get another transplant or new treatments could be available.
Berenice’s dream quinceañera was coordinated by Jacqueline Gaster with Make-A-Wish and the help of a couple dozen volunteers and businesses that donated services for free or at reduced prices. Some of the volunteers are giving back themselves, such as DJ Joe Alfaro of Turlock, who lost two sons before the age of 3 to Zellweger syndrome and now helps “as a way of honoring my boys. They gave us so much love and taught us so much,” Alfaro said.
“The University Plaza Waterfront Hotel has a history of working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Sacramento and Northeastern California, and we are excited to continue that relationship and also to help make wishes like Berenice’s come true,” hotel general manager Christopher Gamble said.
Berenice’s dream day included a 5:30 a.m. wake-up serenade by the seven-piece Mariachi Luz De Luna of Stockton outside her bedroom window in Escalon, a ride in a 33-foot Hummer limousine to a formal ceremony at St. Edward’s Catholic Church, professional photography and videography, a DJ, a traditional gown, flowers, professional invitations, balloons, gourmet catering, a wedding-style cake, slushie machine and dessert table.
The following businesses made it possible: University Plaza Waterfront Hotel, Angela Dal Bon Custom Invitations & Announcements, Sweet Cakes by Rebecca, The Illustrated Bride, The Trade Secrets, Sacramento Weddings Magazine, AF WPI/Bridal Expo, Blue Frog Photography, Marjorie Perez Planner, Le Petites Palace, Liquid Light Video, Floral by Camille, America’s Party Rental, Relles Florist, A Dazzling Day… By Darcie, DJ’s Exquisite Sounds, Sol Events & Associates, Mixx Mater Pro DJ & Limousine, Mirtha’s Balloon Decorations & Rentals, Creaciones Auri, Restaurante Y Taqueria El Maguey and Rent-A-Drink.
Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/goldeenblog.
Source and additional photos: RecordNet.com, “The party of her life” by Joe Goldeen, 12 Jun 2011.