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Youth gives back to Dream Come True

January 16, 1999|By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY/ Staff Writer

Eight-year-old Michael Martinez has learned a lesson few children his age grasp, and some people never learn. He understands the gift of giving.

Surrounded by his family in the living room of their Hagerstown home Friday, Michael plucked a card from atop a mammoth, penny-filled water jug, and handed it to Ron Phillips, president of Dream Come True Inc.

In his best penmanship, the boy had written:

"In January 1995, Dreams gave me a trip that I will never forget, so I wanted to make another child smile. So we saved all our pennies. Here it is 1999, and our jar is full. It is 139 pounds of pennies for dreams."

At age 4, Michael Martinez was diagnosed with cancer.

Four years ago, the Hagerstown-based Dream Come True, Inc.- an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that formed in 1986 to help children with terminal and life-threatening diseases - granted Michael's wish to spend a week with his family at Disney World in Florida.

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"For that week, it was like the cancer was gone and we could just be a family," said Michael's mother, Sherry Reid. "We thought maybe one day we could make another child's dream come true," she said.

Reid said that after they returned from Florida, the family began collecting pennies from leftover change, on the ground and anywhere else they could find them.

Over the course of nearly four years, the few pennies that covered the bottom of an empty coke bottle grew to a mountain of copper topping a five-gallon water jug.

"You could give me $1 million and it wouldn't mean as much as what this child has given me today," said Phillips. "This youngster is teaching everybody about what it means to give back."

Michael said he saved the coins because he had a great time on the trip, and wanted another child to have a similar experience.

A third-grade honor student at Winter Street Elementary school, Michael said he loves to play video games, and watch "Stone Cold" Steve Austin wrestle. He has read all but two of the books in the "Goosebumps" series.

He loves lemonade and spaghetti.

Though the shy boy shares many of the same interests as his peers, he is no ordinary child, his mother said.

"He's my hero," said Reid. "He's a little fighter. He can be in so much pain that he can hardly walk, and he never complains," she said.

Reid remembers the night "our whole life took a turn."

She said she had put four-year-old Michael to bed hours before she heard him trying to call for her at 3 a.m. He appeared to have an abscess in his mouth, she said.

It was a tumor.

Michael's doctor diagnosed Rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that strikes soft tissue, and is found primarily in children, according to Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary.

When Michael awoke in the middle of the night, the tumor had burst open, Reid said. Doctors have deemed it inoperable, she added.

Reid said the tumor, which is attached to Michael's sinuses, has damaged his sight and causes daily nosebleeds. When he is old enough, Michael will have to undergo dental and facial surgery, she said.

Michael has been in remission for two years, Reid said.

The disease has taught the family to appreciate each day together, she said.

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