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Small boy battles big disease

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By Carol A. Clark

Bianca Archuleta took her rambunctious 4-year-old son for his pre-kindergarten physical May 7. She wanted to ensure his immunizations were up to date.

Pediatrician Shelley Schoonover of the Children’s Clinic at 3917 West Road, Suite 128, noticed Alejandro “Handro” Archuleta was anemic. She also spotted a bruise on his ankle.

“Dr. Schoonover asked if he’d been tired or sick lately and I told her he was fine. He was limping slightly but I thought it was because he was wearing new high top tennis shoes,” Bianca explained during an interview in her office at Los Alamos National Bank Tuesday afternoon.

“That was on a Thursday and I received a call Friday that Dr. Schoonover wanted Handro to have additional tests at the hospital in Albuquerque.”

Bianca and husband Pete Archuleta, a security guard at SOC, traveled with Handro to Albuquerque the following Tuesday. His Thursday blood test showed a 120,000 cell count and the hematologists at UNM Hospital in Albuquerque told the Archuletas said his count on Tuesday had dropped to 30,000.

“They knew immediately that Handro had Leukemia, they were just trying to identify which type. There are two types and he was diagnosed that day with ALL (Acute Lymphatic Leukemia),” Bianca said. “They wanted to check his bone marrow and we took him to the Pediatric Oncology Center. It was definite he had leukemia and it was progressing fast so they admitted him to the hospital.”

The doctors in Albuquerque told Bianca that her Los Alamos pediatrician did an outstanding job of testing Handro, analyzing the results and immediately requesting he undergo further tests.

“We can’t ever thank Dr. Schoonover enough,” Bianca said. “She is a wonderful doctor.”

Handro was enrolled at Holy Cross Elementary School but had to be disenrolled because his immune system is gone, she said. He can’t be in public places and he can’t go to daycare.

Bianca, 30, is a commercial loan processor and has worked at the bank for six years. Pete, 42, is a security officer at SOC where he’s worked for nearly seven years.

Since Handro’s diagnosis, the family has joined forces to care for his needs. Bianca’s mother, Susan Roybal took a leave of absence from her job running a soup kitchen in Espanola to help. Pete’s parents, Piedro and Beronice Archuleta live in Tierra Amarilla and also have been very helpful, she said.

“If he’s sick we stay home with him,” Bianca said. “The bank has been wonderful, these aren’t just coworkers I work with, they’re family.”

CEO Bill Enloe checks in regularly to make sure Bianca is doing alright, she said.

“Everyone from janitors to coworkers in every department see me and ask how Handro is doing, they’ve known him since he was born,” Bianca said. “I get so much support, especially from the loan department and from my supervisors Syndi Schlindwein, Elizabeth Cavasos and Joe Cook. They tell me if I need to be home with him to go.”

Bianca also praised the support she’s receiving from her husband.

“Pete is such a wonderful husband and great father to our sons and without him I don’t know what I would do,” she said.  

Bianca, Pete and Pete, Jr., 6, take Handro to chemotherapy once a week in Albuquerque and he also takes oral medications.

He’ll continue those treatments once a week for a while, then every two weeks and finally once a month for the next three-and-a-half-years, Bianca said.

“The first six months will be the toughest,” she said. “He’s taking this as best as a 4 year old can. He’s never alone. We do it as a family, Pete Jr., is Handro’s best friend and always with him.”

Once Handro is cured, he’ll need regular checkups for the rest of his life because having had Leukemia can lead to other cancers, Bianca said.

The doctors told Bianca that Handro has a good spirit that will help him get well.

“It’s that feistiness that’s going to help Handro beat this,” Bianca said. “He’s a very determined little boy – even if it takes a while – he wants to get up by himself.” 

Bianca and Pete thank the community for its support since word of their son’s illness has spread.

“I want to thank everyone for their generosity in giving to our medical fund, people we don’t know are giving to the fund,” Bianca said as she broke down in tears. “This community is a very giving community.”

LANB coworkers are rallying the community to support the Archuletas as they go through this very challenging life event.

There will be a Waffle Benefit Breakfast from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. Saturday at the Masonic Lodge at 15th and Canyon Road.

LANB employees are volunteering at the event and Bianca’s parents, Frank and Susan Roybal, will attend.

Tickets are $7.50 for adults and $5 for children.

All proceeds go to the Archuleta Family.

Donations to the Handro Archuleta Medical Fund can be made through LANB at 1200 Trinity Drive.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.