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Lodge rallies to help sick 10-year-old

An Elks benefit tonight will raise money for bills faced by the family of a Tarpon Springs girl with two forms of leukemia.

By MATTIAS KAREN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 2000


TARPON SPRINGS -- A fund-raiser to help the family of a 10-year-old Tarpon Springs girl being treated for two forms of leukemia is scheduled today at the Tarpon Springs Elks Lodge.

Jaclyn Arzate, a fourth-grade student at Tarpon Springs Fundamental Elementary School, is receiving care at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The treatment is piling up huge hospital bills for the Arzate family, and the benefit is meant to help relieve some of that burden, said Tom Frain, the Elks Lodge member who is organizing the event.

The benefit will start at 5 p.m. at the Elks Lodge, 237 S Pinellas Ave., and will feature food and music.

Shari Arzate, Jaclyn's mother, said her daughter is currently receiving chemotherapy, which will last about two years. If the therapy does not work, a bone marrow transplant may be necessary, Arzate said. She said her daughter is showing symptoms of both acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), which is making the treatment less effective. AML is usually found among adults while ALL is more common among children. To suffer from both is extremely rare, Arzate said.

The treatment also is taking its toll on Jaclyn, she said. Her dark brown hair, which used to hang down to her waist, is now almost completely gone. Despite that, Jaclyn is "as good as could be expected," Arzate said.

"She's being a real trouper," she said. "But it's very difficult for me to understand, and it must be difficult for her to understand."

It is also difficult to pay for it all. Jaclyn spent one week at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg and has been at the New York hospital for a little more than a month, Arzate said. The bill for the treatment during the first week in New York was $28,000. Arzate estimated the total bill at about $60,000 and growing.

That's why Frain, whose son goes to school with Jaclyn, scrambled to put the benefit together to help the family with the hospital costs.

"That's what (the Elks Lodge) does, we try to help the community when we can," he said. "This was drawn together pretty quickly. I got a lot of help from a lot of people."

Frain said all the food, except for $80 worth of chicken, was donated to the Elks Lodge. The disc jockey is also playing for free. Tickets for the benefit are $10 for adults and $5 for children. All proceeds will go to the family. The Elks Lodge holds about 300 people, and Frain hopes a full house would bring in around $3,000.

"That would be great," he said.

There's more being done for Jaclyn. In case she needs a bone marrow transplant, Ceridian Benefits Services, where Shari Arzate works, will hold a blood drive to find a possible bone marrow donor. Ceridian employees are also making private donations to help the Arzate family.

Denise Lipsey, whose sister works with Arzate, said everyone she has talked to has said they want to help. "There's so much concern about her because she's such a sweet little girl," Lipsey said. "Any time a child is ill like this, everyone comes together. It's such a great community feeling."

Many employees at Tarpon Springs Fundamental are also trying to help, Arzate said.

"I just want to thank everyone for everything they're doing," she said. "It's been fantastic and it's really a great support system."

Arzate, who is staying at the Ronald McDonald House in New York with her husband, said the doctors will not let Jaclyn return to Florida until the cancer is in remission and all of her cancer cells are gone. She said she doesn't know how long that will be.

Donations can be sent to the Tarpon Springs Elks Lodge, P.O. Box 447, Tarpon Springs, FL 34688-0447.

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