Sue Kiesewetter reports:
Tuesday marked a new beginning for 7-year-old Yosselin Villatoro and her family.
That’s because Yosselin, her 6-year-old brother, Freddy, and grandparents, Tammy and Keith Randall, moved into a new house built for the family by volunteers.
Before they could move in, they were greeted Tuesday evening by 30 to 40 community members, who wanted to reveal the home they built for the family.
“It was unreal. Totally unreal,” Tammy Randall said. “You always hear about all the bad. This is a good thing. People came together for strangers, for a cause, for a 7-year-old child battling cancer, and it is just wonderful.”
No longer will they worry that mold or walls separating from the floor in their old, flood-damaged home would compromise Yosselin’s delicate immune system damaged by months of chemotherapy.
There are no uneven floors or too-narrow hallways to hamper her movement with her walker or wheelchair as she gradually builds up her strength to walk unaided.
“It’s wonderful,” said her grandmother, who has custody of Yosselin and Freddy. “I thank God. He gave me all the answers and these wonderful people that have helped us.”
The family’s life changed dramatically nearly one year ago when doctors told the Randalls that Yosselin had osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer that started in the femur of her left leg and spread to her lungs.
Since that December 2011 diagnosis just before Christmas, Yosselin has undergone four surgeries – including one to remove eight inches of her femur, replacing it with an expandable metal rod – to remove the cancer.
She has been hospitalized dozens of times for chemotherapy treatments, infections and transfusions.
Through it all, a group of dedicated volunteers joined the family on their journey, expanding the circle of help as needed.
“And all these strangers came together and created all of this for a 7-year-old little girl,” Tammy Randall said. “Who does that anymore? It needs to be out there, it really does.”
It all began with a phone call offering help and support from Kristan Dooley, the mother of one of Yosselin’s classmates at Cherokee Elementary School who was concerned about Yosselin after she had missed several days.
“It started out that we’ll pray for you, get meals and buy gas cards,’’ said volunteer Angie Roehm. “We started by redoing Yosselin’s room – a few families, our parents and close friends.”
From there, the group thought about redoing three or four parts of the house but soon discovered that wouldn’t be an option because of the extent of the damage.
Money the Randalls had put aside for the repair work – which had begun before Yosselin’s diagnosis – was diverted to mounting medical bills. Repairs were halted – until the volunteers stepped in.
“At every step that we took toward what we felt was the right thing to do – what we felt God was calling us to do – our circle of volunteers from the community grew,” Roehm said.
“We started out with doing a few core things to make the house more livable, but we knew we needed to do more.”
Eventually that core group of about 10 partnered with A New Chance Foundation and Lebanon-based High Pointe Custom Homes to tear down the old house and construct the new, 2,100-square-foot brick and stone ranch home .
Dooley estimates 300 to 400 volunteers helped build the home.
“I woke up today at 3 o’clock this morning and I felt like it was Christmas,” Dooley said. “This is the moment we have been waiting for – for the past 10 months. The realization that this is all happening and all these pieces are being put together just gives me butterflies.”
Once construction began, the family wasn’t allowed in the house – until it was unveiled.
Besides building the house, the group provided new appliances, filled the cabinets with plates, cups and silverware. They put new towels in the bathrooms, sheets and comforters on new beds, a couch in the great room, along with table and chairs in the kitchen and canisters on the counter.
Things are so much better now, Tammy says, pointing to Yosselin, who can stand unaided on both legs for short periods of time. That’s something she couldn’t do just two months ago.
“She’s touched a lot of lives,” Randall said, her eyes tearing up. “She’s brought everyone together.”
Yosselin’s immune system is improving and a slight rise in her temperature no longer sends the family to the emergency room. She is now receiving therapy twice a week to strengthen her leg muscles. She is allowed to put 50 percent weight on her leg and put both feet on the ground for short periods.
Yosselin received her last chemotherapy treatment Sept. 6 and only has to schedule appointments with her oncologist quarterly.
“Looking at her today – it was worth it,’’ Randall said. “Thank you, God, for everything.”
After next month’s doctor visit, the Randalls expect to hear four magic words: Yosselin is in remission.
Until then, she continues her therapy. She is coping with some memory loss from the chemotherapy treatments and her family is working to reduce Yosselin’s panic attacks.
After Christmas, she should be able to start second grade at Cherokee.
“We still have to be careful, but things are good,” Randall says. “We’re not done yet, but we’re in a better place.”
Enquirer reporter Adam Kiefaber contributed