Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article

The year 2013 has barely started, but for one Mechanicsville family, the bulk of it has been spent in the hospital.

On Jan. 3, 17-month-old Gianna Grace Cartagena was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia after her parents noticed a yellowing of her skin and her not being able to walk on her own.

This weekend, three different bake sales are being held to help fund her treatments and the financial toll it’s taking on her parents. The first bake sale will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, Friday, Feb. 1, at Giant Food in Prince Frederick. The second will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at Roland’s in Chesapeake Beach. The third will be from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3, at McKay’s in Leonardtown.

“We’re still baffled,” said Gianna’s grandmother, Brenda Bussey of Mechanicsville. Brenda said Gianna’s treatment will likely be 2.5 years of chemotherapy, which Gianna will continue to receive even if and when she goes into remission. Due to low blood counts, Bussey said Gianna was in Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for all but two days since her diagnoses. Nonetheless, she said Gianna’s spirit has not faltered.

“She’s full of energy and hungry like a bear. She’s entertaining the hospital — it’s the people around her that are falling apart,” Bussey said of her granddaughter, who she said tries to tap dance like her older sister and is being raised to speak both English and Spanish.

Gianna’s mother, Nikki Bussey, said Gianna was discharged from the hospital Wednesday but will need to go back today for procedures.

“She’s been playing and running the halls at the hospital. It’s hard to even think she’s sick,” Nikki said. She explained that the proceeds from the bake sale are going toward a nonprofit account for Gianna that the family has set up through PNC Bank.

The bake sales are being coordinated by Alison Hunley of Mechanicsville, who said she learned about Gianna on Facebook. Hunley said she later found out Gianna was actually a distant relative on her husband’s side.

As the mother of an 18-month-old boy, Hunley said hearing Gianna’s story hit her hard.

“I wanted to give them some hope from the community. … How could you look at her face and not do it?” Hunley said. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”

Hunley said there are about 75 people helping with the bake sales in some capacity, whether they baked, are selling or are a business that donated to one of the many baskets that will be raffled. Hunley said each of the three sales will have 14 baskets for which raffle tickets will be sold.

“Every time I ask, people just say ‘yes,’” Hunley said, continuing that at this point, the only thing she would possibly need would be lunch for the volunteers working at the bake sales.

Other events coming up for Gianna include a Yard Sale and Indoor Bizarre slated for March 2 at the Prince Frederick Volunteer Fire Department where Gianna’s father, Frank, was a former EMT. There is also a benefit concert for Gianna scheduled for April 6 at the Mechanicsville Volunteer Fire Department. The event now has a Facebook page: “Gianna Grace Benefit Concert.”

“Everything has been so overwhelming — the amount of people that have come together that I don’t even know. It’s heartwarming,” said Nikki, who is currently on leave of absence from her job.

Nikki said she was particularly surprised and touched by the leadership that Hunley, a distant relative, has taken.

“She’s pretty much done all the decision making because she knows I’m not all there,” Nikki said.

She said she can’t wait for Gianna to be older so she can tell her how many people helped her.

“I’m putting it in a scrapbook and she’s going to know it all,” Nikki said.