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Kristina Gonzalez, the main attraction at festival with mother Uta and sister Victoria.

Kristina Gonzalez, the main attraction at festival with mother Uta and sister Victoria.

Jim Smith/El Hispano

Philadelphia – A fundraising ‘Music Festival for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’ drew a crowd of between 250-350, Saturday, as dancing and gamboling along Fifth and Lycoming streets accompanied the vivacious rhythms of bands like Sabor Criollo, Trio Renacer, Los Muchachos del Solar, Jose y La Fuereza del Merengue and Masacote y su Banda Swing.

In addition to the salsa and merengue sounds pulsating outside Cayey’s Bar, the event featured a variety of guest emcees, including news anchor Ilia Garcia and Radio host Marilyn Rodriguez of La Mega radio 105.7, who was accompanied by fiancé and Camden County Deputy Clerk Angel Fuentes.

Despite the appeal of these local luminaries, there was no doubt who the main attraction of Saturday’s musical festival: it was six-year old Kristina Gonzalez.

Donning a cap that covers the temporary effects of radiation treatments she is undergoing at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children for a form of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, Kristina’s smile and exuberant personality outshone all at the daylong festival.  While immense trays of Puerto Rican foods – from arroz con pollo, arroz con granules to potato salad – were piled high inside the Cayey bar, Kristina was bathed in a steady stream of hugs from family and friends.

Kristina hugs Father Hector Gonzalez during festival to fund St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

Kristina hugs Father Hector Gonzalez during festival to fund St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Kristina’s parents, Hector Gonzalez and Victoria told El Hispano that in spite of facing difficult treatments, Kristina has remained “full of life” and “the same very happy and positive girl.”

Although she cannot attend school, Hector noted that her first-grade teachers at Potter Thomas Elementary continue to “send work for her to do at home.”  Meanwhile, Hector added, her favorite diversions are to play with a “collection of dolls” and watching the movie “Frozen” with her sister Victoria.  “She loves it, and watches it over and over again.”

Since being diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her back that had reached stage 4, Kristina has required treatments and therapies under a costly regimen that would have quickly left the Gonzalez family destitute. And that is where St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital comes in.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is a global leader in research and treatment of childhood cancer, pushing survival rates to as high as 90 percent today. In addition, the families of children having cancer treatments never receive a bill, as St. Jude’s covers the all cost associated with the care of children like Kristina.

During the last forty years the incidence of childhood cancers has increased 24 percent. In 2014, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents were diagnosed with cancer, with a roughly 90 percent survival rate.

At pediatric cancer centers, such as St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, the Gonzalez family receive a variety of support services, which include social-workers, counselors, nutritionists and physical therapists.

The type of treatment Kristina receives is recommended by team of physicians, and largely depends upon her overall health, the type of cancer and the stage of the cancer.  The treatment options range from surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or in some cases a stem cell procedure.

Although the festival coincided with his birthday, Camden Cty. Deputy Clerk Angel Fuentes said, “It didn’t matter what day it was, I wanted to be here to give back to Kristina and so many other children suffering with cancer.”

“It’s a perfect gift,” added Fuentes. “This is a celebration of life.”

On Monday, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) unveiled new legislation, the Advancing Hope Act, that expands on a pilot program the Senator had previously passed into law. The legislation would incentivize drug companies to research treatments for rare, life-altering diseases that impact pediatric patients but are too infrequently developed because so few children are diagnosed.

     “Our nation has an enduring obligation to be there for the children and families who seek treatment here at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and at children’s hospitals across the country,” Senator Casey said. “If this program is allowed to lapse, Congress will have broken faith with these children and their families. We need to provide certainty for drug developers so that they can count on this incentive when deciding to invest the time and money into developing drugs for rare pediatric diseases.”

    For information about donating, Contact:

Luz Selenia Salas at 267-255-9726 or Victor Acabeo 215-303-1279