Angels Among Us

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Rafael Segura is a taxi driver who provides free rides to the hospital for children with cancer in his colorful and magical car. He’s one amongst many individuals who support them and their families in Seville.

As you’re getting in the taxi, you’re thinking it’ll be just you and the driver, with minimal conversation. You’ll cover the basics; where you’re going, maybe discuss the quickest route, and then pay and be on your way. For most taxis, this would be the case. But your taxi driver is Rafael Segura, and there are a few other passengers on this trip. You’re sharing your space with Sponge Bob, Mickey Mouse, Shrek, and The Simpsons. Your eye doesn’t stop moving from the vibrant colors of the butterflies in the front to the stuffed animals sitting under the back window, and finally to Rafael himself, who has adorned the space right above the till with two small pictures of his children. He points to each of the photos, saying, “My children: Alicia is six, and Alejandro is fourteen.”

Rafael has been a taxi driver in Seville since 1985, but it wasn’t until his four-year-old daughter, now six, suggested the idea that his taxi becomes the most unique in the whole city.

“Why have you decorated your taxi this way?” you ask him curiously.

“When I finished working each day,” he says, “sometimes I would stop in a Chinese corner store and buy one of these little toys for Alicia, like the princesses or the hearts. She would put them in her room and I would tell her that they made her room magical. And one day she says to me, ‘Daddy, I want you to put these in our taxi, so it can be magical, too.’”

And so it began. Rafael started putting some of the toys in the taxi, and after a few days, showed it to Alicia as a surprise. Over the last year and a half, it has become covered from floor to ceiling.

“She showed it to all her friends. She was so, so proud of her dad’s taxi,” Rafael says.

What a nice story, you’re thinking to yourself. Something for a father and daughter to share and do together. Then you start to notice other things in the car. First, the donations box sitting between the two front seats. Then the signs on the back of the seats. A heart cut out of paper, reading, in both Spanish and English, “This taxi supports children with cancer.” Reading further, you notice another sign, reading, “If you know a child with cancer whose family needs transportation, call this number.” So you ask Rafael about this as well.

“I was thinking, after my taxi was decorated, that I should do something more,” he explains. “A lot of children would ride in it and then I thought, the children who are sick, it’s important for them to ride in this taxi.”

For a child with such an illness, something as simple as a short ride in a colorful taxi could take their mind off of it for the time being. Instead of thinking about the hospital, they can be distracted and entertained by Rafael’s beautiful, colorful decorations.

“So, I went to the Virgen del Rocío Hospital and told them what I wanted to do, and they told me about the ANDEX Foundation, and that I could give donations to them. That was the first idea, and I decided that if there was a family that was in a bad financial situation, I could offer them my taxi,” Rafael explains.

ANDEX is the Association of Parents of Children with Cancer of Andalucía. Through their work since 1985 with the Oncology Unit at the Virgen del Rocío Children’s Hospital in Seville, they were able to open a new Hematology Department for the hospital in 2002. ANDEX is part of a larger foundation, the Spanish Federation of Parents of Children with Cancer, together with 17 other associations throughout the country. “ANDEX helps parents financially, amongst other things,” says Dr. Eduardo Quiroga, director of the Children’s Oncology Unit at Virgen del Rocío.
“They have social workers who are assigned to help the families.”

María Luisa Rodríguez, a mother of six, and her husband, Andrés, had two children suffer from cancer.

“One of their sons contracted a type of lymphoma when he was two or three. After receiving treatment, he was well. Then, two or three years later, his brother, who at that time was ten or eleven, began to have severe pain in the belly and suffered urinary problems, so I did an ultrasound and saw that he had an abdominal lymphoma, too,” says Dr. Quiroga, who treated both boys. “From there,” he continues, “the parents and I began to investigate and discovered that their children had an impaired immune system that predisposed them to suffer lymphomas.”

After having a third child, María Luisa, Andrés and the doctors found a unique solution to help treat them. They were able to have another child and later a set of twins by using genetics to ensure the younger children would be able to donate blood to their older siblings. This worked to cure all but the oldest son, who passed two years ago. Over ten years, María Luisa and Andrés got to know the people of the Virgen del Rocío hospital, like Dr. Quiroga, very well.

“Our younger son understood nothing, while the older understood everything,” María Luisa says, explaining the importance of keeping the children’s spirits up.

While she has never known Rafael or his taxi, her kids were never short of moments of relief inside the hospital. There is a classroom in the hospital, full of windows and just as colorful as Rafael’s taxi.

“In the classroom, they paint pictures, they build things, they make decorations for Semana Santa or Navidad. It is an extremely, extremely wonderful place. And it is all because of their teacher, Ana,” María Luisa says, gushing. But Ana doesn’t teach alone. “She has a puppet, that is a raccoon, or mapache. She uses it with the younger children. I remember, when my son was afraid of the nurses, the doctors, everyone… Ana would talk with mapache and my son started to talk to it.”

Along with Ana on the weekdays (who, according to María Luisa, is missed by the children
at night and on weekends), many volunteers spend time with them. María Piedad Navarro, a university student, volunteers with ANDEX. “I go to the hospital on Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m., but a different group goes every day,” she explains. “It’s a little break for the parents, who can leave while we’re there.”

“I just wanted to do something, for someone, to do things for people and to help. At the university, there’s a list of volunteer opportunities, and I chose this one,” she says.

But even without being a relative, María says it can be hard not to build a personal connection
with the children.