On a recent afternoon, Rosemary Romo sat in her living room in Burbank working diligently on an illustration of a smiling cat and a pair of juicy strawberries.
It was an ordinary activity for a 7-year-old, except for the fact that just three 1/2 months earlier, the Jefferson Elementary School first-grade student was in the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, her basic motor skills decimated by an inoperable brain tumor. It required weeks of intensive therapy for Rosemary to regain her ability to even pick up a Crayola marker.
“She has learned how to write [and] to read again, how to speak again, how to walk,” said her mother, Jackie Garcia. “That took six to seven weeks for her to come back to what she is doing now.”
Rosemary’s prognosis is good. While the tumor is too close to a nerve that affects eyesight to operate on, weekly out-patient chemotherapy treatments have shrunk it. Doctors and therapists hope to have her back in class at Jefferson Elementary sometime in May.
And most encouraging of all, family members said, is the extraordinary outpouring of emotional and financial support that has come from co-workers, neighbors and fellow Burbank Unified families.
“It means a lot that people care that much,” Garcia said. “Sometimes you get so involved in your own world you don’t realize what is going on around you. This just touched so many people. It is just amazing; it has left me in awe.”
On Dec. 17, Rosemary made a visit to the nurse’s office at Jefferson Elementary School. A severe headache had her in tears. Then she began vomiting, and she lost consciousness.
Garcia received a call at her job at a dialysis center in Northridge informing her that an ambulance was transporting her daughter to St. Joseph Providence Medical Center. There, doctors discovered a large mass in her brain.
“She wasn’t responsive at all,” Garcia said. “I was trying to talk to her and that is when I knew something was really serious.”
Rosemary was moved to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she would remain in the intensive care unit for two weeks. Doctors eventually determined that she had a low-grade tumor in her frontal lobe that was putting pressure on her brain. The tumor is non-aggressive, but an operation to remove it would be risky, said Anna Evans, a nurse practitioner at the Hospital who is working on the case.
Rosemary began undergoing chemotherapy, as well as rehabilitation to relearn basic skills. A combination of state insurance programs, including Medi-Cal and California Children Services, covered costs.
But Garcia took a 12-week leave of absence from work. She shuttled between the hospital and Rosemary’s three young siblings, who struggled to understand why their sister was no longer at home.
“It’s been really hard,” Garcia said. “It’s a learning experience. Every day we learn something new.”
Turning a corner, with help
Garcia created a web page in order to keep family members and friends updated on Rosemary’s condition — she was released from the hospital on Feb. 22 — and they responded in kind. Emotional support has poured in from all corners, Garcia said. Jefferson Elementary parents stop her outside the school to let her know they are thinking of Rosemary.
Community members have also contributed financially, via personal donations and fundraisers. Last weekend, the Travis Weaver Children’s Center, an afterschool program that Rosemary once attended, hosted an event at the First Presbyterian Church to raise money for the family.
More than 250 people attended the event, said center director Leslie Reese.
“Her mom is not working right now, and I was just trying to think of ways to get some money for her,” Reese said. “I just think it is so important when somebody gets sick for the community to come together and help the family.”
On March 27, radio show producer Lota Hadley organized a fundraising event at the John Lovitz Comedy Club at Universal Studios. And members of the Burbank Mothers group also raised funds.
“I have an 8-year-old daughter,” Hadley said. “I can’t even imagine having this happen.”
Garcia is back at work on a part-time basis, and Rosemary is keeping up with her schooling via an at-home tutor provided by the Burbank Unified School District. She has started to return to some of her favorite activities, and recently enrolled in a ballet class.
“We have to wear the ballet tights, and we have to wear ballet dresses,” Rosemary explained. “And whatever the teacher does, we have to copy. We are just learning how to do ballet.”
Rosemary’s family and doctors hope she will be able to return to school in May and finish out the year with her classmates.
“Thankfully, the community has really come through,” Garcia said.