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A love of racing games and Hot Wheels cars were the inspiration for the artwork created by nine-year-old Jay Aponte, child artist for the 2014 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest. His original watercolor and pencil painting will be auctioned at the Wine Fest Grand Tasting and Auction Saturday, Feb. 22. Jay is a frequent visitor to Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, having been diagnosed with leukemia in December 2011.

Aponte’s mother, Luz Aponte, suspected something was wrong with her son on Christmas Day, 2011. “He just wasn’t the person I knew; the little boy running around, expecting presents for Christmas. Christmas Day was not a good day.”

The following morning, she took Aponte to an urgent care facility. By then, he had developed red spots on his legs. The doctor wanted to run a blood test and after 45 minutes of waiting for the results, Mrs. Aponte was given the startling news. It was leukemia. She recalled, “The doctor told me to go directly to the Children’s Hospital in Fort Myers. He said do not go home, but go there now. I was scared, but that’s what we did.”

After additional tests confirmed the diagnosis, Jay began treatment. Although a frightening situation, Mrs. Aponte was thankful it happened when it did. She and her family had just returned from her home country of Columbia, South America. She couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had he fallen ill while there, “I’m sure they have wonderful doctors, but the health care system is just so much better here.” She added she is grateful to the staff at Golisano Children’s Hospital for making her feel at ease.”I thank God for the people that received me that day. They have made me feel like everything was going to be okay since that very first moment. The nurses are fantastic and treat us like we’re part of a big family. I don’t have the words to thank them enough for everything they’ve done for us.”