By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Seven-year-old Levi Galvez was acting every bit his age Monday morning at Riley Hospital for Children.
As he waited to receive multiple vaccinations, Levi pulled two tiny rubber bouncy balls out of his pocket and sent them flying across the small waiting room. Next, he fiddled with the lever on an exam chair, watching it go up and down. Then he turned off the lights and laughed.
All the while, he talked fast and furious about the new Nintendo Switch he was hoping to get, before settling in to watch “Space Jam” on his dad’s phone.
For Geovani Galvez, seeing his son like this is the answer to a prayer. Lots of prayers.
Because for the first time in five years, Levi was about to ring the bell in the Riley Outpatient Center hematology-oncology clinic, signifying that he is cancer-free.
Diagnosed at age 2 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Levi has endured multiple spinal taps, bone marrow procedures, chemotherapy infusions, radiation sessions, relapses and a stem cell transplant from his dad.
He’s lost his hair, his appetite and his good humor many times over.
But the cancer is gone now, and the hair, appetite and humor are back. And with Monday’s lifting of the mask requirement for most areas of Riley, also back is Levi’s beautiful smile for all to see.
After getting a good report from Riley hematologist-oncologist Dr. April Rahrig, confirming that Levi is 100% cancer-free one year after Geovani Galvez donated his own bone marrow to his son, the first-grader paraded before a group of cheering Riley staff and took his spot under the bell.
“We are all here to celebrate you,” Dr. Rahrig said to her young patient. “You have been battling cancer since you were 2 years old and you have won that battle,” she said.
“What? Cool,” he responded, before she presented him with a medal, a certificate and, best of all, a cookie.
“We are so proud of you,” Dr. Rahrig continued. “You are so brave, and now you get to ring the bell.”
As Levi rang the bell three times, team members lined the hallway, cheering, clapping and ringing their own small bells. Levi’s teacher FaceTimed his dad at that moment, cheering on her student.
“Ring that bell all day long,” she shouted with pride.
Dr. Rahrig said the team is still waiting for Levi’s immune system to recover so he can return to school, but she is pleased to see him so energetic.
“He’s doing great. The most rewarding part of my job is to see a kiddo go through their entire journey and then have them ring the bell. It’s awesome.”
For Levi’s dad, the moment was a long time coming. He was first set to ring the bell back in 2020, but COVID restrictions made it impossible. Then he relapsed – twice – before undergoing a stem cell transplant in 2022.
“This is big closure,” said Galvez, a former team member at IU Health Methodist Hospital who now works as an EMT for Indianapolis EMS.
“It’s been five years of trauma, not knowing when the end would be,” he said. “Today, we’re ending the mask restrictions here and closing out with the bell. It’s awesome because this will be the first time we can capture all the smiles.”
In his job as an EMT, the father of two sees heartbreaking scenarios of injury and loss every day, particularly when it comes to gun violence.
“It’s crazy how people don’t value life,” he said, even as his son fought for his own. “Through those times when he relapsed, you wonder if they are going to get the leukemia under control. Cancer can spread like wildfire.
“We wanted life for him, and here we are.”
Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com
Keeping watch over his son - Geovani Galvez hasn’t left his 6-year-old son’s side since the boy received his dad’s donated bone marrow last week.
He tried to take his own life. Now he is saving his son - Geovani Galvez lacked purpose and hope that July day when he shot himself. Seven months later, he is donating bone marrow to help his little boy beat leukemia.