Christian Contreras, 4, peeked out from behind a surgical mask covering most of his face and watched with mild interest Wednesday as his uncle Marcello Contreras, Carson City Fire Battalion Chief Bob Charles and firefighters Robert Stanford and Jeff Novakovich had their heads shaved in advance of today's St. Baldrick's Foundation Fundraising event in Reno. The money raised goes toward childhood cancer research.
The gathering was in Christian's honor, but he mostly shied away from the attention, instead hiding his face in his mother's neck. But sometimes, despite the mask that covered his mouth, a smile would flash in his eyes.
The Carson City boy was just a toddler in 2009 when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia after his single mother discovered a lump under his arm. Since then, the little boy who loves to play with his "Toy Story" car in his "Toy Story" pajamas, constantly battles infection, has undergone chemotherapy treatments and lengthy hospital stays. His mother, Sylvia Contreras, has struggled to keep a roof over his head, said sister-in-law Stacy Nauyoks. Sylvia has lost that battle and is facing eviction in days.
"You are the only one who calls us," Nauyoks said to Firefighter Curtis Baker who has taken on the task of keeping in touch with the family on behalf of the Carson City Firefighters Association.
The firefighters never forget Christian, said Nauyoks. Christmas only came to his struggling household because of them, she said. That seven more Carson City firefighters - Jeff Linscott, Brad Mihelic, Chris Pace, Curtis Baker, Sam Saunders, and Robbie Cook and dispatcher Liz Hertz - will shave their heads today in Christian's name is further proof of their dedication to him. They will join dozens of others in raising money for St. Baldrick's, the largest volunteer-driven fundraising effort in the world to benefit childhood cancer research. Since 2000, more than $90 million has been raised to "Conquer Kids' Cancer."
"I've had a close family member that died two years ago of cancer and I got involved last year with a personal donation to support what our firefighters were doing. This year I decided to do more," said the newly shorn Charles. "Just being involved and doing what we can do, especially for a local kid like Christian, is great."
Created in 2000, St. Baldrick's raised over $22 million last year through their primary fundraising effort, shaving the heads of 34,410 men and 3,922 women.
Among the women this year is dispatcher Hertz.
While the money raised goes toward cancer research, it doesn't help Christian's family survive day to day, said Baker.
On Wednesday Baker set up an account in the hopes that the community will.
Donations can be made to the Christian Contreras Benefit Fund at any Wells Fargo Branch, account number 3675112928.
"His family has been hit by the economy and his mom is not able to work right now. They can't even afford, at this point, to put a roof over his head," said Baker. "He's a 4-year-old kid and he's the definition of innocence. People should help because he's unable to help himself."
To learn more about St. Baldrick's visit stbalricks.org. To donate to the Carson City Firefighters fundraising efforts visit www.stbaldricks.org/teams/mypage/teamid/69463.