Seven local leaders commit to finding cures for blood cancers

[dropcap]A [/dropcap]reality television star seen on two seasons of CBS-TV’s The Amazing Race and known for his work as a concierge to Latin Americans making a new home in South Florida; an executive at Norwegian Cruise Line; a highly successful Mary Kay Cosmetics owner, and two real estate specialists based in Miami’s Brickell district are just some of the candidates who have committed to putting an end to blood cancers by volunteering to seek the crowns of 2015 Miami Man and Woman of the Year.

The Man and Woman of the Year campaign is a spirited competition benefitting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) that is designed to raise funds to help find cures for blood cancers. Candidates are a select group of honored individuals who are nominated by their peers. They are dynamic, passionate, sometimes competitive, and from the social and business communities. The 2015 Miami Man and Woman of the Year campaign recently began with a special invitation-only celebration at sponsor Rene Ruiz in Coral Gables, culminating in a Grand Finale Gala set for Saturday, June 6, at the Trump National Doral Miami.

This year’s Champions of Hope, seeking the respective titles of Man and Woman of the Year, are:
Adriana Fajet, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Miami Springs;
Stephen Jackson, Turnberry Isle Miami, Aventura;
Danilo Jimenez, Reality Check Legal Solutions and participant on CBS’s The Amazing Race;
David Kurz, Douglas Elliman Real Estate, Brickell;
Phillip J. Medina, FirstBank Florida, Waterford;
Alex Pinelo, Norwegian Cruise Line, Miami, and
Edna Talavera, Fortune International Realty, Brickell.

“The Man and Woman of the Year program is a great way for candidates to partner with other influential people in their communities to bring hope to thousands of blood cancer patients,” said Terri Jones, regional vice president of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“Candidates get to showcase their fundraising and community outreach skills as well as their humanitarianism.”

Miami Man and Woman of the Year Nominating Committee chairs are Irene Korge and Keith St. Clair of Conexus. Honorary chairs for the 2015 Man and Woman of the Year are Michael Parrish of Aon Risk Solutions, and Michelle Fee of Cruise Planners-American Express Travel.

The 2015 Champions of Hope are raising funds in honor of the 2015 Miami Boy and Girl of the Year. These honored children are blood cancer survivors. The 2015 Miami Man and Woman of the Year candidates are also running in memory of Emily Nicole Bossano, 15, stepdaughter of candidate David Kurz. Emily lost her battle with blood cancer on Feb. 27.

Girl of the Year: Meli Mederos — Melanie is a 13-year-old girl in Miami who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), on Friday, July 18, 2014 at 2:36 p.m. Just over one month later, Dr. Maggie Fader, MD, an oncologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, shared the news with Melanie and her family that she was negative MRD (minimal residue disease), and in remission.

Even so, Melanie has undergone 242 days of chemotherapy and extended hospital stays away from her family and friends. She has caught several infections and was admitted for high fevers due to low blood cell counts and a weakened immune system. She has had an infinite amount of blood and platelet transfusions, which of late she has been very sensitive to and is resulting in allergic reactions.

Melanie’s hair fell out after only two weeks of treatment. She has lost a lot of weight, missed nearly a year of school, and has to endure blood work and port flushes at least once per week. But Melanie has not lost her smile or her faith. She will continue to receive treatment until December 2016.

Boy of the Year: Francisco Diaz Jr. — Diaz, 14, returned to school at the beginning of the year after fighting AML Leukemia. He was diagnosed with the blood cancer exactly two years ago, on Mar. 27, 2013.

“I have been in and out of Holtz Children Hospital,” he said. “I went through chemo and a bone marrow transplant. The recovery was painful.” He was confined to his hospital room and, after that, his house from late September 2013 until October 2014. Food restrictions were also lifted at that time.

“I went through a very strict diet, and everyone around me had to wear masks and disinfect their hands,” Francisco added. “I was completely isolated and very bored at home.”

While homebound, Francisco discovered that he enjoys cooking and baking — a hobby to take his mind off of the 35 pills per day he ingested. Today, he makes a great companion at a fine steakhouse or California-style Mexican restaurant.

“I can never say no to a good-looking burrito,” he admited.

Raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and still a fan of the Lakers and Dodgers, Francisco now calls Miami home and loves the warm, aqua-colored waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. To learn more about the Man and Woman of the Year campaign, visit

To learn more about the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, visit or contact the Information Resource Center at 1-800- 955-4572 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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