Students play Santa for Vandenberg child
By Airman 1st Class Heather R. Shaw , 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 22, 2009
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- It was a day just like any other as mom Stephanie Lubas took her daughter to the doctor's office for the abnormal pains she was feeling. Makaila was experiencing joint pain in both her legs and shoulders, at times refusing to walk because of the pain. Expecting a diagnosis of childhood arthritis, Mrs. Lubas was shocked when the doctor started to read 5-year-old Makaila's labs. As a pediatric nurse, she knew immediately the tests had revealed her daughter had leukemia.
Upon learning of her daughter's diagnosis, chronic myeloid leukemia, Mrs. Lubas had no choice but to pull her daughter from school in an effort to keep her weakened immune system germ-free. When she called Crestview Elementary, her daughter's school, she spoke to Principal Ken Faulk to let him know of Makaila's illness. After hearing, he graciously asked if the school could start a fundraiser in her honor. Mrs. Lubas agreed.
Crestview Elementary School donated a check of more than $1,600 to kindergartener Makaila Lubas here Dec. 18 after three weeks of fundraising in her honor.
"Mr. Faulk started 'Pennies for Makaila' immediately after learning of her initial diagnosis," said Mrs. Lubas, wife of Senior Master Sgt. Frank Lubas from the 14th Air Force. "I thought it was a sweet idea and figured they would just give loose change. We had no idea that the children would raise $1,600!"
Making the check presentation even more special was a ride on a Vandenberg fire truck with Santa to Crestview, where the entire student body was awaiting her arrival.
"We wanted to make sure this was a memorable event," said Mr. Faulk. "We contacted the fire department and they were more than willing to let her ride."
Makaila was presented the check at an assembly in front of the school. Bashfully, she also received a Christmas stocking twice her size. The stocking, filled with gifts for Christmas, was so large that two fifth-graders had to present it.
"We don't really know Makaila, but we wanted to do something for her," said Trevor Middleton, son of Tech. Sgt. Michael Middleton of the 14th Air Force and one of the stocking presenters. She's a nice girl and everyone pitched in to help her, he added.
"I was shocked by the genuine concern and care from children that only heard about Makaila," said Sergeant Lubas. "Children kept running up to her to say 'Hi,' 'Merry Christmas' and 'I hope you feel better.'"
Crestview isn't the only organization pitching in to ensure that Makaila and her family are taken care of; the Youth Center is also involved.
"When we had to pull Makaila out of school, she was really worried everyone would forget her," said Mrs. Lubas. "The kids at the Youth Center actually wrote her letters and made a poster with all of their pictures to show how much they cared about her."
"The Air Force family has helped us so very much," said Sgt. Lubas. "My leadership has supported us 100 percent and granted the time off needed to provide for Makaila while going through treatment."
Base members, family and friends have volunteered to help with everyday tasks such as making meals and babysitting.
"I am so glad that I convinced my son to join the Air Force," said Barbara Lubas, the mother of Sergeant Lubas. "Without the support, especially financially, they would be struggling even more than they are."
Starting the day she was diagnosed, Makaila has had countless medical appointments. The labs, blood work and particularly the medication have been staggeringly expensive, said Mrs. Lubas. Luckily, one of the benefits the Air Force provides is healthcare.
Tricare has covered all of the expenses with the exception of small co-pays -- a small price to pay for such thorough coverage. Just one of the medications Makaila is prescribed costs more than $5,000 a month, said Mrs. Lubas.
Although the odds have seemingly stacked against the Lubas family, they consider themselves fortunate in many ways.
"The diagnosis was devastating," said Mrs. Lubas. "But we are lucky because it was caught in the first stage, which rarely happens due to mis-diagnosis."
After the diagnosis, Makaila was put on a treatment plan of bone marrow transplants, blood tests and prescribed numerous medications. The plan seems to be working, said Mrs. Lubas.
"Starting the medications was the most amazing thing," said Mrs. Lubas. "Within just one month, Makaila's organs were normal size."
One of Makaila's prescriptions is an oral chemotherapy pill that doesn't cause her to lose her hair or make her sick like most chemotherapy. Her prognosis is good, said Mrs. Lubas. Right now she just has to continue with the treatments and blood work.
"Until there is a change, either for better or worse, Makaila will continue the treatment plan, but for now she is doing great," said Mrs. Lubas. "I am so thankful for the support system of the Air Force and the community; without all the support, I don't know how we would have gotten through this."