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Gallup man with rare disease feels support of friends, family at recent fundraiser

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Jimmy and Julie Gonzales appreciated the support of city residents and others from the region for attending their recent enchilada fundraising event at the Community Pantry in Gallup, which began Feb. 5 and is ongoing.

The fundraiser was held to cover Jimmy Gonzales’ medical treatment costs at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. Friends and family coordinated the fundraising activities, which also included a raffle and softball tournament.

A GoFundMe page, titled “Help Jimmy Get to Mayo,” was also established. As of Feb. 14, 138 people have raised $9,606 of the $20,000 goal in 21 days. The campaign is trending and there is still time to contribute.

On May 20, 2016, Gonzales was diagnosed with Stage II AB thymoma and underwent surgery a month later. Numerous rounds of radiation therapy and an intense fight with his body followed. In January of 2017, it was revealed that Gonzales had Myasthenia gravis.

“It is an autoimmune disorder. I’ve been dealing with it all my life,” Gonzales said of the condition.

In sixth grade, Gonzales began to lose his hair. What was thought to be tape on the back of his head was actually the start of Alopecia.

Gonzales was healthy for the most part, but his health began to take a turn a couple of years ago.

Julie Gonzales said that in the spring of 2016, her husband wasn’t feeling well, so they visited a local doctor who increased Jimmy’s asthma medication for about six to eight weeks.

“Suddenly, he got really bad and he almost started blacking out with small exertion-type things,” she said. “We went to the emergency room and they did a chest x-ray for pneumonia. They did a CT scan and that’s when they found a softball-sized tumor in his chest.”

One of Gonzales’ lungs was completely flattened by the tumor, which was also pressed up against his heart. The hospital flew him to Albuquerque for a higher level of medical treatment than what could be provided locally.

After several days in the hospital and a biopsy, the couple found out that the growth was a thymoma tumor, a cancer of the thymus gland.

“With the auto immune [disease], basically my body is fighting against itself,” Gonzales said.

His immune system, instead of fighting viruses and foreign objects in the body, fights along with the viruses to attack his body.

“Basically, my body doesn’t have a defense mechanism,” he said.

Because of this, staying away from sick people and large crowds is crucial, especially with the severe flu season this year. If he goes outdoors, covering up and wearing a mask is necessary.

Gonzales’ underwent a sternotomy in June 2016, which cracked the sternum apart for access to his chest cavity.

His wife spoke to Gonzales’ physical reaction to the surgery.

“He did really well after surgery, he was up and walking a mile within about a week. He did great,” Julie Gonzales said.

But when the pathology came in, there were still signs of the thymoma, and Jimmy had to undergo 28 rounds of radiation in the fall of 2016. He suffered through lung failure.

MG is often referred to as the “Snowflake Disease” because no two people ever have the same treatment plan for the illness.

Gonzales has had his own struggles trying to match the right treatment to his body.

“There’s different treatments with different dosages. Getting the right treatment is the trick,” he said. “We want to bring awareness to this disease. It gets swept under the rug because there’s no known cure.”

The ability to swallow and speak comes and goes. Gonzales was getting fatigued during the interview and said it takes him an hour or longer to eat a meal.

Although he has medical insurance, the required healthcare costs are expensive. The Mayo Clinic is not in the couple’s medical network; only 50 percent of the costs are covered.

Julie Gonzales is realistic about what adequate healthcare entails for their family.

“You must have cash in hand if you show up at the Mayo Clinic,” she said.

Jimmy plans to fight MG every step of the way, and is determined to overcome the disease through prayer and help of families and friends.

“The Mayo Clinic gives us hope. We want to thank our friends and family. Thank you to everybody who came together in this huge effort,” Jimmy said.

For more information, visit www.gofundme.com/jimmytomayo

By Rick Abasta

Sun Correspondent