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Tumor changes Rotary student exchange into rescue

Peruvian man stays in U.S. for medical treatment
by: Jaime Valdez, Rony Montalvan is grateful for the support he’s received since being diagnosed with leukemia.

Rony Montalvan couldn't wait to return home to his family in Toquepala, Peru.

After completing a year as a Beaverton Rotary exchange student at Beaverton High School, he was looking forward to sharing all that he had learned and experienced with his parents and siblings.

But six days before his scheduled flight home in June, the 18-year-old was grounded by T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

'One day I woke up feeling bad,' Rony said. 'I couldn't breathe and had pain in my chest.'

His host family, Terry and Kathy Tobin of Cedar Mill, knew that something was seriously wrong when he agreed to seek medical attention.

'Rony is not a complainer,' Kathy Tobin said. 'He takes everything in stride. Even though he had a terrible cough that was causing him pain, he never complained.'

After going to a nearby Immediate Care clinic, medical personnel called for a chest X-ray that revealed a shadow. Further testing showed that Rony's thymus gland was enlarged and pushing on his trachea, heart and lungs.

'He had a tumor that was making it difficult for him to get a breath,' Kathy said. 'He was very uncomfortable and a really sick boy.'

Rony was transferred to Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital, where he was scheduled to meet with Dr. Janice Olson, a pediatric oncologist with the Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Program.

The Tobins accepted their role as Rony's stand-in parents, and began researching who would be trusted with the care of their 'son.'

'God was watching over Rony,' Kathy said. 'Dr. Olson was amazing.

'She's a wonderful doctor. She also was a Rotary exchange student in high school and spoke Spanish, so she and Rony had that common bond.'

Sharing the news of Rony's sickness with his parents, who were looking forward to being reunited with their son, was heartbreaking.

'It was very hard,' Kathy said. 'And it was hard for his family to be so far away.

'The decision was made very quickly that he would stay here. There was no way he could fly.'

Thankful for families

To be with their son, Rony's parents Ronald Montalvan and Hilda Cueto de Montalvan arranged to travel to the United States.

As the family made plans, the medical team at Emanuel began to treat Rony and create a 36-month plan for his care.

At the same time, the Beaverton Rotary agreed to sponsor Rony for a second year to allow him to continue his medical treatment.

'Rony was part of our family, and there was no question that we would continue to sponsor him for another year to help and assist him in whatever way we could,' said Carl Vorhies, a Beaverton Rotary member and chairman of the youth exchange committee. 'Initially there were a lot of questions about what his long-term care demands would be, how he would respond to treatment and other issues.

'But the real issue for us was his family. Being diagnosed with leukemia was severe enough, but on top of that is the fact that he had been here for an entire school year away from his family. His parents were ready to have him come home. I can't even imagine how difficult all of this must have been for his parents.'

Rony's father was the first to make the trip and stayed with the Tobins for three weeks. Rony's 20-year-old sister Michelle followed, staying six weeks.

His mother waited to take the third trip.

'My faith in God and confidence in the medical specialists there are here kept me strong,' said Hilda, as she sat across from her son in the Tobins' family room Tuesday.

'I'm very grateful that my son is being treated here in the United States,' she added. 'My husband and I are impressed with the level of care and technology available here.

'I appreciate the support Kathy and Terry have given me and am so grateful that I could meet them.'

Rony has also been overwhelmed by the support he has received from the Tobins, his other host families, Beaverton Rotary and the friends he has made in the community.

'People I barely know are trying to help me and that means a lot to me,' Rony said. 'The family I've been with have opened their hearts and helped me out. I'm so thankful for them.'

ROAD TO RECOVERY NEEDS DONATIONS

Rony Montalvan has a long road ahead of him on his journey to recovery.

While his host family and Beaverton Rotary work to ensure that Rony is able to stay in Oregon for a year of treatment, he is no longer eligible for his father's medical insurance in Peru.

To cover the mounting medical costs for his treatment, Beaverton Rotary has identified Rony as the primary beneficiary of its Oct. 13 International Community Service Auction. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Kingstad Center in Beaverton.

Donations are also being accepted. Anyone wishing to contribute is asked to mail donations to the Beaverton Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 385, Beaverton 97075. Donations should specify that they are to support Rony Montalvan.

Rotarians are also looking for families to host Rony and one of his family members for a month at a time as he continues his treatment. Interested families should contact Carl Vorhies, 503-292-0442 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..