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Ripon Police adopt their personal poster boy for leukemia society
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It was all about 10-year-old Julian Ortega and supporting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Monday at Ripon’s police department. Councilman Dean Uecker and Roz Combley represented their Farmers Insurance Company is presenting a check for $500 for the society. Linda Johnston, right, of the Ripon police department, is joining in with a 100 mile bicycle ride on June 7 – The American Great Race -- that will circle Lake Tahoe with proceeds going toward the fund. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON — Julian Ortega – the 10-year-old with a winning smile – has captivated the hearts of officers at the Ripon Police Department and especially that of supervisor Linda Johnston.

The young leukemia victim has been a regular visitor at police headquarters visiting his aunt Celeste Wilson who works there as an emergency dispatcher and who is anxious to tell of the brave battle her nephew has endured.

Johnston leads the effort to go after funds for research, supporting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and making Julian their personal poster boy within the department, and within the Ripon and Manteca communities.

Johnston, and her 21-year-old daughter Alyssa Robbins, have already collected over $6,000 between them as they prepare to join other long-distance bike riders in a 100-mile marathon around Lake Tahoe June 7.  They will be riding with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s riders in their Great American Ride – also termed their “century ride.”

“This adventure has been great for me.  I have had the opportunity to connect with my daughter with some very good one-on-one time, as well as being able to raise money for a great cause,” she said.

Johnston – an outgoing member among Ripon’s police force – said it’s ok to quit the Tahoe ride early if the body happens to give out on you.  But her history in riding almost guarantees she and her daughter will make it to the finish line over the hilly course.

Some 35 donations from the Ripon force and the community have come out of a total of 50 that have been recorded on Johnston’s website.  Ripon Police Volunteers in Police Services (VIPS) have donated $800 and the Ripon Police Officers Association has put $100 toward the cause.  Several Ripon City Council members have also contributed to the fund.

Dispatcher buys road bike to get back into shape
Johnston said she purchased her road bike during the summer of 2006 after she decided to get back into shape.  The police dispatch supervisor said she completed her first 80-mile solo ride in August of 2007.

“My daughter Alyssa Robbins came home early one day in January and said she wanted me to join her in a marathon to raise money for a great cause,” she remembered.  After Julian was diagnosed that year the two decided to ride together at the Tahoe race in his honor – his disease would be that great cause they were looking to support.

Johnston has logged over 1,500 miles and Alyssa has traveled over 700 miles on a racing bike that her mom bought for her so they could ride together.

Not only has Julian suffered from leukemia but he is also a special-needs child with the communication skills of a toddler who cannot speak in full sentences – using few words at a time to express himself.

It was Thanksgiving Day in 2007 when Julian was playing on the floor after dinner with a cousin when he bumped his nose and started an uncontrollable bleed – emergency room doctors declared he was suffering from leukemia.

Due to a loss of blood and a deteriorating condition, Julian was flown by helicopter to Oakland Children’s Hospital in Oakland where he faced an aggressive approach of chemotherapy.  The effects of the cancer and its treatment caused his weight to drop to 48 pounds and family members said he was barely recognizable.

Julian spent his ninth birthday in the hospital ICU as well as Christmas.  His aunt Celeste said that through the bad-tasting medicine, needle pricks, spinal taps, strangers in white coats and chemo therapy treatments he just laythere and never complained – although often a tear would roll down his cheek.

An emotional roller coaster continued for over 10 months with the boy being able to go home, but with a developing fever he would be returned to the hospital.  In September of last year he was able to return home for good, his aunt said.

Julian celebrates best Christmas ever
It’s been a year and a half since he was stricken on Thanksgiving Day and Julian has come a long way.  With the help of a wheelchair and a walker he was able to go Trick or Treating in October of last year.  He then got to celebrate his 10nth birthday in December – followed by the “best Christmas ever,” his family said.

Although he is a little wobbly, he insists on walking without his walker, and he was able to return to school in January.

During Julian’s treatments his family allowed doctors to enroll him in an experimental treatment.  The data collected will be analyzed, then used to keep statistical information on how Julian’s body reacted to a specific course of treatment – allowing doctors to determine and document which methods worked better than others for future cases of the disease.

Julian continues to have monthly chemo treatments albeit not as strong as they were in the beginning, and his appetite for hot dogs and fries is getting back to normal, his family reported.

The Ortega family said they cannot fully express their gratitude and appreciation to everyone who has donated blood in Julian’s name, offered their prayers and support and to those who have donated to organizations such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in its search for a cure.

Johnston’s website address is