Local Leukemia Patient Pays it Forward at Elementary School

Six-year-old Gabriel Aguirre (center) spearheaded a fundraiser to benefit cancer research at West Hills Primary School in East Franklin Township earlier this month. (submitted photo)

by Jonathan Weaver

Every month this school year, West Hills Primary students have walked around the campus as part of a regular wellness activity, but earlier this month, they walked to one day provide wellness to pediatric cancer patients.

The last wellness walk of the school year proved to be a special one to local students and families, as well as kindergarten student, Gabriel Aguirre – who brainstormed that the May 10 walk would act as a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh patients.

Aguirre – who is battling leukemia and receives care at Children’s Hospital – brainstormed the idea with his kindergarten teacher, Pam McCanna, in September.

“We asked kids to wear gold and/or donate $1 to walk with us,” McCanna said. “We’ve raised over $2,000 (to benefit) cancer research.”

To be exact, as of Friday, students pitched in more than $2,400 as part of the “Go for Gabe” campaign.

To encourage participation, Gabriel and his classmates made signs, yellow pledge cards and even gold bracelets. Gold is the color symbolizing support for pediatric cancer.

“We have 700 students, so I was going to be tickled if we raised $500,” McCanna said. “It’s kind of a pay-it-forward story.”

In April 2015, Kittanning Senior High students raised about $10,000 during the “Glow for Gabe” dance-a-thon to help pay Gabriel’s medical bills.

Gabriel is McCanna’s first student battling this type of illness, and said he is not only very open about his illness, but behaves like any other six-year-old kid.

“He’s still undergoing treatment, but he’s a fighter,” McCanna said. “He hasn’t missed too many days of school this year. And he’s going to help other kids fight (cancer) too.”

McCanna and the school PTO treasurer have counted $100 checks and other large amounts of money as part of the campaign.

“And a lot of the (money) came from the students – there were envelopes with quarters and pennies in them, too,” McCanna said. “We appreciate everything.”

Gabriel’s father, Walter, and grandmother, Kathy Williams, came to support Gabriel’s idea.

“I feel very good that my son took the initiative and showed empathy and compassion and wanted to help others. Really heart-warming,” Walter said.

Gabriel is currently in remission, but still has more than a year of treatment, requiring Gabriel to stay inside to play with Legos and draw.

In a statement, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation Corporate and Community Giving director Brian Harmon also thanked West Hills Primary families for their support and were “extremely grateful.”