Wildwood Elementary student Abby tackles new year with abundant optimism

For many, a new year brings excitement. There’s hope for better and brighter days ahead. And it’s a time for a fresh outlook and renewed enthusiasm.

Fresh off a complicated surgery to have her pancreas, spleen and gallbladder removed and islet cells transplanted into her liver, Abby Lacayo, as well as Mom Gina and Dad Denis, were more than ready to ring in the new year.

Those sentiments certainly ring true for Gina and Denis Lacayo, of Wildwood, as they charge into 2019 with an optimism many of us would be hard-pressed to comprehend. Because for the first time in a very long time, their 9-year-old daughter, Abby – fresh off having her pancreas, spleen and gallbladder removed and islet cells transplanted into her liver – stands the chance of being healthy and enjoying life the way a fourth-grader is supposed to experience it.

“Even though 2018 was one of our most difficult years, we try to see the positive,” Gina said Tuesday as the family celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Ronald McDonald House near the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, where Abby underwent the complicated 12-hour surgery on Dec. 12. “We have been blessed to have such amazing people in our lives to support us, encourage us and to help us get Abby the help she needed.”

Abby Lacayo received a visit from Santa and his young helper at the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis.

Abby’s story is one that is well-known to Villagers and others throughout the tri-county area. The straight-A fourth-grader at Wildwood Elementary School had suffered from Hereditary Chronic Pancreatitis and Gastro Paresis, which caused her severe pain and bloating. She needed an extremely complicated surgery that very few medical teams could perform, so the family traveled to Minnesota at the beginning of December to have the procedure done and hopefully give their young daughter with the terrific attitude and infectious smile her life back.

“We are looking forward to better and healthier days,” Gina said. “Although it takes a year to fully recover, we are already seeing improvements. As each day passes, she will only get better and better.”

Gina said the family could be at the Ronald McDonald House anywhere from six to 12 weeks, depending on the initial recovery time. She said Abby is currently on a feeding tube, though she is allowed to eat some foods as well. And her doctors are working to cut back on pain medications, which takes some trial and error and sometimes results in Abby being uncomfortable from the recent surgery.

After a ‘bored’ Abby applied her mother’s makeup for her recently, the playful fourth-grader then decided to photobomb Gina Lacayo’s selfie.

But Gina said her daughter has an amazing outlook on life and a wonderful attitude. In fact, she said, Abby told her doctors she would be out of the hospital by Christmas Eve, which they declared as a “very ambitious” goal.

Without blinking, Abby responded with, “Don’t underestimate me.” And 11 days later – the day before Abby’s goal – she left the hospital and headed for her home away from home at the Ronald McDonald House to start her long road to recovery.

As shown at a recent Wildwood Elementary School career day, Abby Lacayo hopes to be a doctor someday so she can help others.

As Gina thinks about everything the family has been through and looks ahead to the possibilities for her daughter in 2019, what appeared to be impossible at one point now seems very real and within reach.

“It is very emotional to think that soon my daughter will be happy and healthy – something I wasn’t sure would be possible,” Gina said of the little girl who hopes to be a doctor someday so she can help others. “But now it is.”

Gina said she and Denis are looking forward to seeing Abby live life like a normal kid for a change.

“She is such a sweet girl and deserves a life free of pain,” Gina said. “I am overjoyed that she is finally going to be able to see what life is like without constant pain.”

Prior to Abby’s surgery, she got quite a boost from two young girls who already had been through the same procedure. Both of the girls – Ellie Schugel, of Minneapolis, and Bryce Zimmer, of Melbourne – were at the hospital at the same time as Abby for their two-year follow-up appointments. Abby already had become close friends with Bryce before she left Florida for the surgery, so seeing her friend at such a crucial time proved to be extremely beneficial.

“It helped her have the courage to walk into surgery confident with her head held high,” Gina said.

Ellie Schugel, center, and Bryce Zimmer, right, paid a visit to Abby Lacayo at the Ronald McDonald House where she and her family are staying near the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.

Bryce also made a huge difference as Abby was going through a difficult bowel prep prior to the surgery.

“Bryce refused to leave her side,” Gina said. “She even held Abby’s hair and rubbed her back as she threw up. What 12-year-old do you know that will sit with another child through one of their sickest days?”

After getting out of the hospital on Dec. 23, Abby was more than ready to celebrate Christmas.

Back home in Florida, many of Abby’s friends and relatives who have followed her story on Villages-News.com are anxiously awaiting her return home. One of those, Villager Faye Scher, a volunteer at Abby’s school and a member of the charity-oriented Gilchrist West Social Club, has been with the Lacayo family every step of the way. She’s done everything from encouraging people to send cards to Abby to purchasing winter coats for the family to take to Minnesota to starting a GoFundMe account to help offset some of the enormous expenses they are facing. And she’s been in constant contact with Gina to stay apprised of Abby’s condition.

Villager Faye Scher and Abby Lacayo.

“Mighty things come in small packages,” said Scher, who can be reached at fscher@aol.com. “I knew Abby would be positive from the start and would give this her all. I am so happy her family will be able to have so many positive things to celebrate going into 2019.”

Those wishing to send cards, letters or well-wishes to Abby can mail them to her at Abby Lacayo c/o Ronald McDonald House, 621 Oak Street SE, Room No. 311, Minneapolis, MN 55414. Those who wish to donate to Abby’s GoFundMe account can do so by clicking HERE.