Teen cancer survivor’s challenge earns $50K for Jacob’s Heart

Andrew Perez is shown with his counselor, Mariela Medina. Perez hopes to raise another $5,000 for Jacob's Heart Children's Cancer Support Services. (Contributed photo)

WATSONVILLE — A 16-year-old cancer survivor has become a philanthropist.

The story of how Andrew Perez used his 4-H skills to raise $5,000 for Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services — the organization that helped him during his cancer fight — has created a groundswell of support, with the community raising another $50,000 in less than five weeks as part of his campaign.

Perez was so moved by the response to his fundraising challenge that he plans to raise another $5,000 this year to jump-start a second donation drive.

Perez was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer, in April 2017. His treatment required multiple trips each week to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford, a 90-minute drive each way from his home, for eight months.

Jacob’s Heart supported Perez and his family with practical items, such as gas cards and groceries. They provided social and emotional support as well, from the peer group of teenagers undergoing cancer treatment that Perez joined, with the help of Mariela Medina, a counselor and cancer survivor, who met him privately in his home.

“Jacob’s Heart is a good place for healing,” he said. “They know what you are going through, and they can really empathize.”

In gratitude for the support he received, Perez used his skills from being in 4-H for the past five years to raise money for the organization. He donated the proceeds from selling his livestock at several county fairs and challenged the community to turn his $5,000 gift into $50,000 in less than two months.

“It was quite a challenge from quite a young man,” said Jacob’s Heart founder and Executive Director Lori Butterworth.

As December waned, it looked like Perez’s campaign would only make about half its goal. But in the final hours of New Year’s Eve, Michael Zwerling of KSCO-AM radio, the station where Perez had been a talk show guest, made up the difference.

Zwerling, whose family has owned KSCO-AM since 1991, downplayed his $23,500 gift.

“What Andrew did was fantastic,” he said. “That’s a lot of money for a young guy to donate, and my hat’s off to him. I wanted to do it, and Mrs. Butterworth made a good case for it, but Andrew made the best case of all. I’ve never really seen that kind of courage and generosity, especially in such a young man.”

The day Perez received the news about the 11th-hour donation was also his one-year anniversary of being cancer-free.

Perez said the Zwerling donation reminded him of what happened when a pig of his was sold at the King City Fair after his diagnosis in 2017. Because he was in the middle of his cancer treatments, a friend showed the pig on Perez’s behalf. As word got out about why Perez was not in attendance, it became a mini-fundraiser, with a bidding frenzy driving up the price of the pig to $26,000.

As a result of that show-stopping pig and other auctions, Perez achieved a personal goal to save $40,000 toward his college education. After reaching that milestone, he said he had raised enough money for himself and wanted to turn his attention to philanthropy.

Fairs that Perez will attend this year will go toward his second $5,000 gift to Jacob’s Heart.

Contributions can be made by visiting tinyurl.com/ydyufv52.

For information, visit jacobsheart.org or call 724-9100.


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