A 12-year-old Lehigh Acres Boy got an early Christmas gift a few days ago when The Lost Riders Riding Club came out on their motorcycles and brought a live Christmas tree and decorated it for him.
For Ethan Arbelo, it was a wish come true and for the bikers, it was something of great joy, according to Dot Hauser, a spokeswoman for the bikers' group.
Young Ethan's eyes were bight as ornaments were placed on the tree by the bikers with the help of his mom and also himself.
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The Lost Riders Riding Club gave Ethan Arbelo, 12, who is fighting cancer, a Christmas tree and decorated it.
Ethan is battling cancer. And the struggle is hard.
His mother, Maria Maldonado, says Ethan was first diagnosed with brain cancer in March of 2012 and since then, she said the cancer has spread to other areas of his body.
"His prognosis is not good," said Maldonado, who is 42 and raising Ethan as a single mom and trying to work and still be his main caregiver with the help of Hospice which comes to the house.
"He's a strong young man," his mother said. "He's told the doctors that he isn't going to die," she said.
Maldonado, who has had to take much time off from her work to drive her son back and forth to Tampa for extensive chemotherapy treatments, has little time for anything else.
The gift of the "live" Christmas three came about due a developing friendship with Dot Hauser, herself a member of the Lost Riders Riding Club, composed of members all over Lee County, with many in Cape Coral.
"I first got involved with Ethan in March of 2013 when the Latin American Motorcycle Association in Fort Myers held a fundraiser for Ethan. Neither group is considered a motorcycle gang; Lost Riders are a non-profit organization and both organizations do many fundraisers for several organizations and our communities," Hauser said.
Her involvement with young Ethan and his mom came about earlier this
Year when she heard about Ethan's worsening condition, that the cancer is spreading fast while doctors are doing their best to stop it.
"I personally became involved recently on Nov. 26 by reaching out to Ethan's mother, Maria Maldonado, when I sent her a message on Facebook.
In that message, Hauser wrote in part: " My heart is broken for you and Ethan and your family. My son fought for over three years before he lost his battle at the age of 16. I know what you are going through and I pray for Ethan and you every day."
She asked if some of the Lost Riders could visit Ethan on Friday, Nov. 29.
"After my conversation with Maria, I posted the following on the Lost Riders Facebook page and the responses were overwhelming and the rest is history in the making," she said,
"I just spoke to Maria, Ethan's mom. They are back and forth to the hospital but staying at home with hospice. She and Ethan welcome any and all Lost Riders to visit. She asks we call ahead of time to make sure they are home and able to have visitors.
"We might want to coordinate among ourselves before calling her and overwhelming her with calls. She is need of gas money; their daily trips to Tampa and her inability to work full-time has put a huge financial burden on her," Hauser said.
She said it was very short notice but they were able to get two bikes, four members to ride out. We made Ethan an honorary Lost Rider and visited for an hour or so.
"During our visit I asked what Ethan wanted for Christmas. The response was 'a real Christmas tree' as he had never had a live tree before," she said.
The group went into action that evening and made the club aware of Ethan's wish. By their meeting on Dec. 2, they had a tree, handmade ornaments, a gift card and donations of a stand, lights and everything else needed to decorate the tree.
And on Dec. 6, some 21 motorcycles, two vehicles and approximately 40 people rode to Lehigh to make Ethan's Christmas wish come true.
"Ethan walked up and down the street lined with motorcycles to see everyone and all the bikes. Then we set up the tree and all joined Ethan and Maria in decorating the tree. The smiles and comments from Ethan and his mom were priceless and brought so much happiness to all of us," Hauser said.
She said her heart aches for Ethan and his battle with brain cancer.
"I admire him for all he has and continues to endure and his ability to still fight with a smile on his face - the hope he clings to and love in his heart," Hauser said.
Ethan's mom, just back from a trip to Tampa where chemotherapy is administered daily for several days, said her son has a great attitude and says he is going to make it.
"I pray all the time for him as do many of my military friends and family members," his mom said.
She said she has served in the U.S. Marines and as a child had become her mother's main healthcare taker, all of which she says she believes has made her strong.
But the battle is hard and Maldonado tries to work at her accounting job as often as she can to help make ends meet.
"I really want to thank my boss, she is tremendous. Her name is Cindi Infiesto. I can't say enough nice about her and her support when I have to be with my son and to take him out of town for treatment," she said.
Now in the later stages of cancer since it has moved from the brain and has metastasized, the future is not good. But Ethan continues to say he isn't going to die. That's what he tells his doctors," she said.
While she said Ethan doesn't ask for much, those who know the family say it will be tight financially.
She said Ethan has an X-Box 360 and enjoys video games.
She thanks everyone for their continuous prayers, but Christmas may be difficult for her and Ethan.
Some friends have suggested that if readers want to buy a Christmas gift for Ethan, video games would be a good idea. Others say money for the family would be welcome, too. Any type of gift for a 12-year-old boy would be a very special Christmas gift.
But Maldonado isn't begging or asking for help. People around her have come to love her and her son and they know the agony she is going through.
Maldonado, when asked about Christmas gifts and money, said they would be much appreciated.
If you want to help Ethan out with a Christmas surprise, the best way is to email his mom, rather than showing up at their Lehigh home. You can contact Maldonado at: Ladidvldawg@gmail.com. You can also call her on her cell phone at 813-528-3503. If she is unable to answer, leave a message so she can call you back.
As for as the Lost Riders and Dot Hauser, she says she will do whatever she can to be there for Ethan and Maria throughout the days to come.
"I know what it's like since I walked in Maria's shoes for more than three years before losing my son, Joey. He passed away after battling encephalitis, an infection of the outer layer of the brain, which penetrated the brain and took him from us," she remembered.
But as Christmas approaches, Ethan has hope and that hope he expresses helps others to realize that he's a bright young man, holding on to life every day that he can.