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Teachers lose hair for good cause

November 30, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — With resounding cheers of "Wee-gee! Wee-gee! Wee-gee!" a host of De Anza Junior High School ninth-graders leapt to their feet and applauded wildly as a 6-foot-1 inch baseball cap-wearing 14-year-old ambled to the microphone.

While he hasn't been to school this fall, he is still their classmate and their friend.

The big guy is known affectionately as "Luigi" by his father and his buddies. His freshmen classmates described him as "kind" and "polite."

Since the beginning of the school year, the school's hundreds of students have collected money for him. On Thursday the school had a pep rally in his honor and presented him with a huge replica check for $3,500, a bouquet of flowers and some balloons.

He took the microphone and said four words. "Thank you to everybody."

After his speech he sat down in a little yellow chair and watched a bunch of his teachers get their hair buzzed off.

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"Luigi" had the honors for the last to be shorn — the assistant principal — and he smiled the whole time as he buzzed away the assistant principal's hair.

Afterward the teachers and the student posed proudly for a picture; showing off their matching heads.

Then, they put on matching "Bulldog" burgundy caps.

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In August, Luis "Luigi" Gonzalez found out he had a cancerous tumor the size of a softball blocking his urinary tract.

He was swelling up due to retained fluid.

His father, Victor Gonzalez, noticed his boy was getting a rounded, paunchy belly even though he was going to football practice every day.

His parents sent him to the doctor.

"He didn't tell us," his father said. "We found out from the doctor."

Luis knew there was something wrong but didn't know what.

After the doctors found the tumor, his father said Luis told him he had been "embarrassed" to tell his parents about his concerns.

Doctors did a five-hour operation on the 14-year-old football lineman and first baseman.

"I was knocked out for about a day," he recalls with a smile.

After the operation, Luis began chemotherapy.

The doctors installed a catheter in his chest to administer his treatment intravenously.

As he told his story, Luis ran his hand over his burgundy T-shirt to show the small lump on his chest.

After his first chemo treatment his hair fell out, according to his father. The drugs sapped his energy and it would take him weeks to recover.

Just as he would begin to get back his strength, Luis would have to travel to San Diego again for another treatment.

Victor Gonzalez said the cancer-fighting drugs have really taken a toll on his son.

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On Thursday he was smiling broadly for the photo with the faculty.

His father looked up and said, "That's the best medication."

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Victor Gonzalez said the money will help in the upcoming weeks as Luis begins irradiation therapy.

"We will need to get a place up there," he said.

Luis hopes to return to school by mid-February.

His classmates are anxious for him to return.

"We miss him," said ninth-grader Yajahira Arce.

All of the students sitting around Yajahira said Luis is "cool," "a fun person," "yeah."

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Victor Gonzalez credits one of Luis' seventh-grade teachers with organizing the fund raiser.

That teacher, Richard "Louie" Bowen, was one of the first to get his head shaved.

Interviewed afterward, he talked about Luis as he wiped the stubble from his neck.

"After I found out I figured we needed to find a way to raise money for the chemotherapy.

"He was going out for football when — all of a sudden …

"When I found out it broke my heart. He's a great athlete — a great kid. He's like a big teddy bear. That's how I'd describe him. (He's) very respectful, always does what he's told.

"It's his heart. He's got a big heart," Bowen said.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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