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Car accident devastates family of Bolivian girl with cancer

April 14, 1997

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ An 8-year-old Bolivian girl with cancer who found help in Memphis after a New York hospital turned her away was injured today in a car accident that killed her father and little sister.

Gabriela Salinas, who had finished treatments for bone cancer in January, was taken to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis after the accident, along with her twin brother, Alejandro, and a younger brother, Omar Jr. There was no immediate word on their conditions.

Their mother, Jacqueline Salinas, was in critical condition at LeBonheur Hospital, a spokeswoman said.

Omar Salinas Sr. and the younger daughter, Valentina, were killed in the 5 a.m. accident, said Diedre Malone, a spokeswoman for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, where Gabriela received cancer treatment. They were both thrown from the car when it crossed the median and rolled over on Interstate 40 near Brownsville, about 55 miles northeast of Memphis. Anthony Kimbrough, a spokesman for the state Safety Department, said the father may have fallen asleep at the wheel.

Gabriela was brought to Memphis after actress Marlo Thomas read a newspaper article about the child’s difficulty in finding care. Miss Thomas’ father, the late actor Danny Thomas, helped found St. Jude, and the hospital accepts patients regardless of their ability to pay.

The family had brought Gabriela to New York after they became dissatisfied with a diagnosis from doctors in Bolivia who said she suffered from a pinched nerve. Doctors in New York diagnosed her with Ewing sarcoma, saying she had a tumor on her spine.

But Mount Sinai Hospital in New York had said it could not treat Gabriela because her parents had no medical insurance and no way to pay the $250,000 her treatment was expected to cost.

Gabriela, whose birthday is April 23, had undergone radiation treatments and chemotherapy at St. Jude since March 1996. ``She finished her treatments in January and is now in remission,″ Malone said.

The family has continued to live in Memphis; Gabriela must return to St. Jude every three months for checkups.

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