Off Central: Phoenix teen overcomes cancer thanks to life-saving gifts from his brothers
PHOENIX — Jaziel Olmeda is a fighter in every sense of the word, but he would he not be alive today without the love and sacrifice of his brothers.
Jaziel has spent much of his life battling leukemia, a blood cancer that can affect young children. In fact, it got so bad at one point, that he died for two minutes.
“I believe my dad said that I was just not fighting anymore,” Jaziel said. “My body just was giving up.”
Jaziel’s difficult road started back in 2008 when he was entering the fourth grade. He started getting infections, sweats at night and he was tired all the time. He went to the doctor for a blood check, and the news was grim.
“They said I had cancer,” Jaziel said. “At the moment, I lived in Cottonwood, so we traveled all the way to Phoenix Children’s [Hospital] and they just said, ‘Yeah, you do have cancer.’”
The Olmeda family knew that Jaziel needed to be at Phoenix Children’s Hospital for treatment, so they moved from Cottonwood to Phoenix. Jaziel underwent chemotherapy for about three years. It was grueling, but it worked. He was cancer free for two months.
But leukemia was not done with Jaziel yet, because on Halloween 2011, it came back.
“My only option was either get a transplant or just go through chemo again,” Jaziel said. “So I just decided transplant.”
What Jaziel needed was a bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow is where the blood is made, so an infusion of new bone marrow would give Jaziel another chance. It turns out, two of his brothers were compatible matches and could give Jaziel the bone marrow he needed.
Erick Olmeda, who was 8 years old at the time and the older of the two compatible brothers, volunteered to go through with the transplant. Jaziel and Erick had to see several doctors before the bone marrow transplant took place in February of 2012.
“I feel like, happy, because without that, I feel like he wouldn’t be here,” Erick said.
Things were going well for a while. Jaziel was cancer free for eight months. But Halloween 2012 would be just as devastating for him as the year before.
“I relapsed,” Jaziel said. “They gave me an option, either I wanted to fight or not. I was like, ‘might as well just do it.’ I’ve beat it two times already, I mean the third is the charm, right?”
Initially, doctors wanted an anonymous bone marrow donor, because Jaziel’s cancer is hereditary. Two months later, doctors decided against it, not knowing how Jaziel’s body might react to bone marrow from outside the family. It was up to his brother Ian Olmeda, only 3 years old, to provide the bone marrow needed to save Jaziel.
The operation happened in May 2013. After that, he spent about another month in the hospital.
“Then I got out, and it’s been three years, cancer free,” Jaziel said.
During his extensive battle with leukemia, Jaziel went through dozens of blood transfusions. Those are required during both treatment and bone marrow transplants. It is still a struggle for him to learn, because he went through so much chemotherapy, but he is happy to be alive and in school.
“Life has just been amazing,” Jaziel said. “I know it sounds bad, but I feel like I got cancer for a reason. Now I value my life so much.”
Jaziel volunteers in the community and gives back at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. He is now 17 and a senior at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix. He is involved in the Interact Club where he helps coordinate the school blood drives. He works to get his fellow classmates to donate blood, telling them how donations saved his life. One day he wants to be a nurse so he can help others.
“Teens are the future of America,” Jaziel said. “If it’s not for us, then who is going to donate?”
Jaziel also enjoys spending time with his mom and dad, as well as his brothers. Erick is now 12 and Ian is now 7. He also has another brother, Jonathan, 15, who would cook for Jaziel when he was in the hospital.
Jaziel said the relationship with his brothers will last forever.
“It’s just amazing, knowing that I have them for the rest of my life,” Jaziel said. “They’ll be there for me through good and bad.”
Jaziel said if you can donate, do so to help out those in need. You can become a potential bone marrow match for someone in need by clicking here to join the online registry. You can also give blood by clicking here to find a blood drive near you