It’s a mild November afternoon and Casa de la Amistad, or the House of Friends, a pediatric cancer social services foundation and residential facility in the leafy southern reaches of Mexico City, is calm and bright with mountain sun.
In a high-ceiling playroom on the ground floor, a group of ten children gather with their caretakers and nurses, passing a ball around a circle in an animated game of hot potato. Each time the ball stops, the children answer different questions about their homes all across Mexico. They talk about the foods they miss while they’re in the capital for their treatment, about their heroes and dreams. One child speaks eagerly about her trips between her home in Cancún and Casa de la Amistad, about missing the beach but appreciating the capital’s rich culture and about her hero, Wonder Woman. She also shares her dreams of returning to Mexico City to study psychology when she’s older and healthy so that she can help other children the way her doctors at Casa de la Amistad have helped her.
Over the course of the last 28 years, Casa de la Amistad has served more than 9,000 children and expanded its network of trained professionals – some 1,700 have been trained professionals since 2016 – to 27 of Mexico’s 31 states. Within Mexico City, a metropolis of 22 million people spread out over a low valley and up onto the flanks of the surrounding hills, children and young people at Casa de la Amistad travel to top specialists at eight hospitals around the city, navigating the cities notoriously snarled traffic in vehicles provided by the Baxter International Foundation’s (the philanthropic arm of Baxter International), Driving Your Health community health program.
In an effort to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who depend on its products, Baxter partners with organizations to increase access to healthcare for the underserved. Through Direct Relief and Baxter’s support, the overall Driving Your Health program has directly benefited over 81,000 patients. Another 706,000 people have been indirect beneficiaries of the program by participating in patient counseling from trained healthcare workers or receiving healthcare literature.
At Casa de la Amistad specifically, over 11,000 patients and their caregivers were transported roundtrip via the Baxter bus from their lodging facilities to local treatment hospitals in Mexico City.
Medical education from trained health workers, focusing on early detection, and cancer prevention and detection literature reached more than 150,000 people in Mexico. Baxter also formed collaborative partnerships with the Mexican Diabetes Association and Association Gilberto to provide other medical outreach health programs for the communities around Mexico City.
Beatriz Martínez Navarrate was diagnosed with bone cancer at a young age. Her father worked in construction and her little brother had special needs, which meant that her family had little to no extra money for her treatment. At first, doctors said that Beatriz would likely lose her knee, but once her treatments began, they revised their prognosis. Her doctors would be able to save the knee, but she would need an interior prosthesis in order for it to function properly. While her prognosis was better, this prosthetic was an expensive piece of technology and procedure. That’s when she heard about Casa de la Amistad. Beatriz and her family turned to the organization for help, and she is now 18 months into her treatment.
For older patients like Martínez whose futures are closer at hand, the access to treatment hospitals made possible at the Casa de la Amistad has allowed them to focus on their own needs and desires, rather than on the heavy financial burden that might otherwise have fallen on their families. “I’ve always loved traditional dance, so that’s what I want to do after my surgery,” said Martínez.
Not only is Casa de la Amistad a residential center, but it’s also a space that allows kids and their families to continue dreaming despite the stress of their illness and treatment. Patients who are receiving treatment at the center can continue their studies and preserve some elements of normalcy in their lives that have been upended by cancer. Patients also benefit from the support of other young people living through a similar experience.
Felipe Alamilla Figueroa was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer at the age of 20. One of seven siblings, he’s had the support of the entire family over his two years of treatment, but says that Casa de la Amistad was able to help relieve the burden that can come along with a cancer diagnosis. “Over time, the cost of treatment is really crushing,” said Alamilla. “But once I came here to the Casa de la Amistad and thanks to the resources here, my family was able to manage things more easily.”
Michel Hernandez Flores came to the Casa de la Amistad from the port city of Coatzacoalcos at the age of 15 after he was diagnosed with bone cancer. Two years later, she was entering her undergraduate program. She plans to study medicine, a new dream that was born here at Casa de la Amistad. “Before I wanted to be an architect,” Hernandez says, “but now I want to be a pediatric oncologist.”