PAGE – Elias Begay was diagnosed with Philadelphia-like Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in February 2019. He was 10 years old at the time.
Last month, the 12-year-old rang the bell at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The bell is symbolic of what he and those who love and cared for him accomplished. Elias is now cancer-free.
The Chronicle on June 19 talked with Vernon Begay, Elias’s father and a Navajo Nation police officer at the Tuba City Police District.
He said, “[Elias] got diagnosed when he was 10. We thought he was just sick. The school gave us a call and said, ‘He doesn’t look too well’ so we picked him up and asked him, ‘Do you want to go to the hospital, or do you want to stay home and see if you get better?’”
Elias told his father, “I think I need to go to the hospital.”
Begay said, “He, himself felt something was wrong. So, we loaded up and took him to the hospital here. It was an all-day thing. They (physicians) wouldn’t tell us. Then finally, they said, you need to go to the ER, so we went to the ER.”
Eventually, Begay was told Elias needed to go to Children’s Primary. Begay asked if they needed him to drive him to Phoenix. He was told, “No. He needs to go tonight, so he needs to be flown there.”
Begay said, “So I ended up going home (to Kaibeto), loading some extra clothes, and I went to Phoenix. When we got there, the first thing they told us, ‘Yeah, he does have it. He has cancer, blood cancer.’”
“It took us to a whole new level,” Begay said. “We’d never been through anything like that, except for his grandfather; his grandfather had had cancer. It was a big shock to us. And from there, it was almost a two-year battle. He’s 12 now. He’s turning 13 this year.”
Begay said Elias’s younger brother, Quanah, donated his stem cells after not finding a good match elsewhere.
The Riders for Warriors Honor Guard is a group of first responders. Page Police Chief Tim Lange is a member. The group raised funds to assist Elias and his family and added to the celebration by escorting Elias from Phoenix Children’s Hospital to Page for a cookout at the Page Sports Complex.
Elias, ready to live life, wanted to ride a motorcycle. The group was happy to give him a ride. Elias rode with Craig Tsosie from Camp Verde to the sports complex. Elias said Tsosie was a safe driver, and “it was hot.” The temperatures that Saturday were hovering around 105 degrees, but Elias wanted to ride the distance.
His father said, “He just wants to live.”
Lynette Goldtooth organized the celebration. She is a founding member of Riders for Warriors. She said, “I reached out to Shandiin (Curley, Elias’s mother) and asked how we could help. Going down to Phoenix every week and practically living down there, she had to quit her job. We went down to Phoenix, and we’d visit them. They were staying at the Ronald McDonald Place. There were only four or five of us at that time.”
Lynette and Riders for Warriors organized several fundraising events.
Goldtooth, a paramedic, said she’s been with Navajo Nation EMS for 15 years. This year she combined Elias’s homecoming honoring EMS workers.
Her announcement stated: “Along with celebrating #TEAMELIAS we will be honoring our 1st Responders.
“Thank you to all 1st Responders: Navajo PD, Navajo Nation Fire Dept, Navajo Nation EMS, Hopi Police Dept, Hopi EMS, Sacred Mountain Medical Services, Page PD, Page Fire, AZ DPS, Coconino County Sheriff Office, Classic Lifeguard and Guardian Air. Special guests Dorothy Fulton, Page Police Department Chief of Police Tim Lange.”