San Diego swim coach marks ‘Day Zero’ after stem cell transplant to fight cancer

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SAN DIEGO – When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented YMCA swim and water polo coach Jorge Salinas from holding in-person classes, he had to get creative. Despite dealing with excruciating hip pain doctors couldn’t explain, he took to YouTube to post virtual workout sessions for his kids.

It wasn’t until February when he finally determined the reason behind the pain.

The then-25-year-old was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“I was like, ‘Oh, OK,’” Salinas said. “I was in a state of shock, but I didn’t really have a reaction and then I was on painkillers, so it didn’t really settle in until a few days after that. It was like, ‘Wow, I have cancer.’”

But he’s refusing to let cancer get the best of him.

His girlfriend, Casey Parks, set up a GoFundMe campaign in April to help pay for medical expenses in hopes he soon can go back to his “active life filled with coaching, surfing, hiking and spending time with loved ones.” She wasn’t surprised by the coach’s strength.

“Seeing him so strong was the highlight of it,” Parks said. “That’s why I consistently go to the hospital. I’m always because honestly, seeing him, he’s literally had the best mentality throughout this whole thing.”

Four rounds of chemo and nine spinal taps later, Salinas was ready for stem cell transplant, courtesy of his sister, Marcela, who was a perfect match.

“A lot of people can’t find their match,” he said. “Especially in minority groups, finding a match for a bone marrow transplant is very difficult just because there’s a lot of misconceptions. People think it’s a surgery. People think it’s painful when they just take basically your blood.”

What’s known as ‘Day Zero’ — or Salinas’ rebirth — offers the San Diego native a greater chance of staying in remission with the hopes of his sister’s healthy stem cells sticking to his body.

“It’s kind of a day to remember that life is precious and to live your life to the fullest and not look back at anything and just have no regrets,” he said. “Just kind of go through. Be thankful. Life is precious and enjoy it while you’re here.”

To learn more on how to donate bone marrow for those in need, visit bethematch.org.

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