ORANGE, Calif., March 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Francesca Arnaudo, a vivacious 9-year-old from Northern California and two-time cancer survivor, was named the 2006 Hyundai Hope On Wheels Spokes-kid, during a presentation today at Children's Hospital of Orange County. As the first national ambassador of the Hope On Wheels program, an initiative created by Hyundai dealers and Hyundai Motor America to support pediatric cancer research, Francesca and her family will travel to Hope On Wheels events sharing their personal story and joining with other children and families to reach for the day when all children can be guaranteed a cure from cancer. (Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20060329/DAW002 ) Francesca was selected as the Hope On Wheels Spokes-kid after a national search to find a courageous and spirited child affected by pediatric cancer who could serve as inspiration to others in their own fight against this disease. "Hyundai dealers are proud to introduce Francesca as this year's Hyundai Hope On Wheels Spokes-kid," said Scott Fink, owner of Hyundai of New Port Richey in Florida and president of the national Hyundai Dealer Association. "Since 1998, Hyundai has been committed to finding a cure for childhood cancer, with donations to the cause now totaling over $7 million. Francesca is proof that funding pediatric cancer research is saving young lives." Hyundai Hope On Wheels is a national program created by Hyundai dealers to spread awareness and funding for pediatric cancer research by gathering childhood cancer patients' handprints on a Hyundai Tucson SUV that travels to local children's hospitals, community events and auto shows. Francesca's colorful handprint is one of more than 300 that children of all ages have added to the vehicle as it makes its way across the country. Like many kids diagnosed with cancer, Francesca was a healthy and active little girl before anyone knew that something was wrong. On the day that her family will never forget, May 8, 2003, 7-year-old Francesca was playing T-ball when she suddenly fell and slightly injured herself. After taking her to the doctor they noticed unusual swelling in her right arm, which turned out to be a tumor in her shoulder. Francesca was then referred to UC Davis Cancer Center in Sacramento, where she was diagnosed with undifferentiated sarcoma (bone cancer), a form of cancer that affects three children in a million under the age of 14. Five months of chemotherapy, surgeries and then more chemotherapy followed, and Francesca's team of doctors and nurses successfully removed the disease and saved her arm, which some doctors did not believe would be possible. Then in December 2004, Francesca and her family were devastated to learn that a second, more lethal type of cancer had been found, secondary acute myeloid leukemia. With a cure rate of 10 percent or less in most patients, to fight this disease Francesca quickly needed a bone marrow transplant -- and none of her family members proved to be a donor match. Luckily, Francesca's doctors at UC Davis found a match through a national search of donated umbilical cord tissue, and she received the transplant in March 2005. On March 22, 2006, Francesca celebrated her one-year anniversary in remission. "As a parent, there's simply no way to describe how terrified and uncertain we all were while this was happening," said Mary Arnaudo, Francesca's mother. "It was a real test for our entire family, but we knew we needed to be strong for Francesca. Like so many others who are fighting childhood cancer, our love for Francesca was all the reason we needed to be resilient and fight every day to get her well." Francesca's entire family supported her throughout her treatment. Mary quit her job to homeschool Francesca and focus on Francesca's health, driving the 75 miles each way to her appointments in Sacramento. Together, Mary and Francesca designed car magnets to pass out to those in their community who support the cause. Her father, John, and brother, Dino, both shaved their heads to support Francesca -- and kept them shaved until Francesca's hair began to grow back. Though her treatment prevented her from attending school, Francesca still kept up her friendships, and helped teach her classmates about her disease -- and the true meaning of determination. "Francesca truly is a miracle child," said Dr. Douglas Taylor, director of the UC Davis pediatric stem cell transplant program. "We will be able to help so many more children just like her because of everything we learned from treating Francesca." Through it all, Francesca demonstrated a level of courage and determination not found in most children her age. She continues to help raise awareness by passing out gold ribbons in support of pediatric cancer at her and Dino's schools, making speeches in and around her community about the effects of childhood cancer, and by participating in cancer awareness events and fund-raisers. "She's truly one of the bravest and most selfless, self-aware little girls I have ever met," added Dr. Taylor. Spokes-kid Francesca was introduced today at the 2006 Hyundai Hope On Wheels tour kick-off at Children's Hospital of Orange County by Hyundai dealers from across the country who traveled to Southern California for this special event. As the 2006 Hope On Wheels Spokes-kid, Francesca and her family will also travel to New York and other cities to meet families like their own who are fighting cancer. "It's so important for kids and their families to know they aren't alone in their battle against cancer," Francesca said. "As the Hyundai Hope On Wheels Spokes-kid, I want to do everything I can to tell people how important it is to fund pediatric cancer research so that more kids like me can become cancer-free." Hyundai's support of childhood cancer research began in 1998 through the effort of Boston-area Hyundai dealers and their donations benefiting The Jimmy Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Additional support then followed to other children's hospitals throughout America through the Hyundai Hope On Wheels tour and an alliance with CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation, Hyundai's national partner in the fight against cancer. About Hyundai Motor America Hyundai Motor America, based in Fountain Valley, Calif., is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Company of Korea. Hyundai cars and sport utility vehicles are distributed in the United States by Hyundai Motor America and are sold and serviced through more than 700 dealerships nationwide. For more information about Hyundai's Hope On Wheels program, or to contribute to the cause, please visit http://www.hyundaihopeonwheels.com .
SOURCE Hyundai Hope On Wheels