Myla: Never Losing Hope

Throughout years of medical challenges, Myla Cunanan has always focused on helping others. Now the spotlight is on Myla: She’s the winner of this year’s Colin Powell Medal of Courage, awarded on September 26 at The Concert for UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals.

In 2014, Myla was diagnosed with myeloid sarcoma, a rare cancer, a few weeks after her 10th birthday. Following several rounds of chemotherapy, she urgently needed a bone marrow transplant. But, since only about 7 percent of registered bone marrow donors are Asian, options were limited for Myla, who is of Filipino descent.

“What inspires me about Myla is her faith and courage. She never complains and has never lost hope.” – Leyna, Myla’s mother

She and her family sprang into action, organizing donor registration drives to highlight the need for more diversity. With time running out, Myla’s father, a half match, was tapped as her donor, and experts on our San Francisco campus, where Myla receives specialty care, performed the procedure. But the incomplete match resulted in a dangerous complication that has vastly reduced her kidney function, causing her to rely on dialysis. She became the first patient to move into our pediatric intensive care unit  at the new Mission Bay hospital when it opened in 2015.

Through it all, Myla has been committed to making a difference. For her 11th birthday, instead of presents, Myla asked for books for the hospital’s school program. She then rallied supporters to donate bandages with Disney, Hello Kitty, and other kid-friendly motifs to bring joy to her fellow patients.

“I am very proud that, in spite of what she has gone through, she has inspired so many people,” says her mother Leyna.

A few months ago, Myla, now 14, faced a significant setback: One night, sensing something wasn’t right, Leyna rushed Myla to the local emergency room. She was discharged, but Leyna’s worries lingered. So she brought Myla to our San Francisco campus, where, in the waiting room, she went into cardiac arrest. Myla subsequently spent several weeks on a ventilator. In her characteristic selfless style, when her breathing tube was removed, Myla’s first words were to her caregivers: “Thank you for helping me.”

This gratitude is echoed by her mother. “The staff at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital has cared so much for Myla — they treat my daughter as if she’s their own,” she says.

Myla has recently enjoyed some positive milestones. She started high school through an online program and will soon be evaluated for a kidney transplant. Leyna hopes Myla can resume favorite activities like volunteering at church and singing in the choir.

“What inspires me about Myla is her faith and courage,” Leyna says. “She never complains and has never lost hope.”