"Wings of Eagles: The Joseph Alvarez Organization for Seriously Ill Children," founded in 1993, seeks "to relieve the financial burden of families" faced with life-threatening illness. "There is an 85 percent divorce rate," writes Georgia Alvarez, "among families with seriously ill children. If we could relieve the financial burden of families, help pay the costs that insurance, that Medi-Cal don't begin to cover, maybe the family could weather the emotional storm they would be faced with."
Georgia Alvarez is intimately acquainted with that "emotional storm." Born and raised in Princeton, she lived "on a two-thousand-acre walnut ranch in which my husband, Alberto, is the shop supervisor." With housing provided (even in their moves "from Butte City, to Chico, and then to Nord") the couple and their children had few real worries--until the doctor's phone call in 1989.
Joseph, then eight, was diagnosed with "acute lymphocytic leukemia with a Philadelphia chromosome ... so rare, that only ten children are diagnosed with it a year," all males. Joseph was terminal, one of his doctors said, and "even with a bone marrow transplant, he only had less than 20 percent chance for survival."
What happened next, the family strains, the tears, Joseph's care for others in the midst of his own pain, Georgia's "spiritual dreams" and a new relationship with God, are all recounted in "The Simple Plan: A Book Of Hope/A Book Of Dreams" ($19.99 in paperback from Xlibris; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format). There's a section of family photographs, too: This happened to a real family, and it nearly tore them apart.
Despair and hope played tag. Before the bone marrow transplant (his younger sister Mary was the donor), Joseph underwent repeated full-body radiation and harsh chemotherapy. The transplant seemed to help, but then Joseph relapsed. His mother described him as wise beyond his years. At one point Joseph said to her, "I'm an angel, and God sent me down to earth to teach, but now my job is done." He died early in 1991.
Thanks to an article in this newspaper, strangers began to make donations to help the family. Two years later, Georgia, with other volunteers, established Wings of Eagles, an ongoing memorial to a little boy whose life touched so many.