In early 2011, the North San Juan community rallied around then-10-year-old Taylor Martines when he was unexpectedly diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Admitted to the UC Medical Center in Sacramento, Taylor would go on to endure surgery, several years of chemotherapy, isolation from friends and more than a year of missed school due to his compromised immune system. Two years later, The Union again wrote about Taylor when the Make-A-Wish Foundation sent him and his family to a San Francisco 49ers game with a chance to meet the team.
Today, Taylor is in full remission and a healthy 18-year-old senior at Nevada Union High School. He's also a defensive end on the football team. When it came time to decide on a senior project topic, he was inspired by the idea of helping ill children who are confined to the hospital and fighting for their lives, just as he had.
Then one night at an October football game it all seemed to come together. It was "Norah Night" at Nevada Union's Hooper Stadium, which was a combined effort by Nevada Union Athletics and the Norah Foundation, which is a local organization founded by Nevada Union alumni Rich and Candace Wilson. In 2015, the Penn Valley couple lost their 15-day-old daughter, Norah, who was born prematurely. As a result, they launched The Norah Foundation, with a mission of supporting families with critically ill children.
The foundation's mission struck a chord with Taylor, and he has since taken on a mission of his own. His senior project is devoted to raising funds for the "Always Together" project, which is in partnership with The Norah Foundation, Angel Eye Camera Systems and Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. "Always Together" is a project committed to raising enough funds to bring cameras to each bed inside neo-natal intensive care units throughout Northern California.
"This would guarantee each and every family who has a baby in their NICU could always be together with their child, even when life requires them to be apart," said Candace, who is also serving as Taylor's mentor. "With a couple clicks, a parent could see their baby at the hospital, could feel that instant love and connection every parent deserves to feel, and make better sense of the care updates provided by the medical teams."
Taylor's first fundraising effort on behalf of the Norah Foundation will be "Shamrockin' Family Fun Night" from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday in the multi-purpose room at Nevada Union High School. Geared toward elementary school-aged children, activities will include games, face painting, a bouncy slide, dancing, bean bag toss, limbo, musical chairs and dinner. Admission is $5 per person or $30 for a family of seven if purchased online, or $7 per person at the door.
"I love Taylor's story because it is a story full of hope and encouragement," said Candace Wilson. "Not only did he bravely overcome cancer, he wakes up with a heart of gold and a desire to make the treatment experience a little easier for those kids still fighting the fight. It's been an absolute pleasure to help Taylor pull together his senior project and we are so grateful for the community that is rallying around his efforts."
Perhaps it was the perspective he gained while battling leukemia at an early age, but today it's clear that giving back is an integral part of who Taylor is. In the fall, he will begin taking classes at the Sierra College Fire Academy and training to become an EMT and paramedic. But for now, he's focusing on critically ill children who are confined to their hospital beds.
"When I heard about the Norah Foundation I knew I had to be a part of it," said Taylor. "There's just something about helping young kids who are going through the same thing I went through. It feels good to know I might be making a difference."