Portola girls grace Christmas card

Diana Jorgenson
Portola Editor

    Nine years ago, Sarah Baty was a child with a life-threatening illness. Today, she is a healthy young girl whose story became the focal piece for what Family House, a nonprofit foundation in San Francisco, is all about.
    Sarah, now 11, and her younger sister, Stella, 8, are on the front of the organization’s Christmas card and promotional mailing this year, smiling and sending signs of peace and good will to all.
    Family House is a haven for families of children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. They have been providing this important service since 1981.
    Family House serves more than 100 individuals each night and more than 2,000 families per year, families like the Batys of Portola.
    According to parents Michael and Shannon Baty, treatment at University of California-San Francisco would have been impossible without Family House, where they had a free, temporary home, food and friends.
    ‘The house had its arms around us,” said Shannon, who was pregnant with Stella at the time when the family was hit with this overwhelming misfortune to their oldest child.
    They have formed a bond with the community at Family House that will never go away.
    When Sarah was 2, she lost her left eye to cancer. After that, she underwent chemotherapy and lost all her hair.
    Retinoblastoma is a rare childhood cancer. Family members may be predisposed to this form of cancer at birth, and Sarah’s sister, Stella, was monitored along with Sarah during her remission.
    Baty said the disease must be noted and caught before the age of 5, when the optic nerves to the brain are established. If it is not treated, the child will die.
    Fortunately, Stella has showed no sign of the cancer and Sarah has stayed in remission.
    But there were aftereffects to this experience—ones that seem to affect the whole family. None of the Batys take life for granted, and their sense of gratitude for the life of their daughter Sarah and their gratitude for Stella’s health is felt daily.
    Both of the girls, as young as they are, are generous in spirit and thoughtful in their acts.
    In July 2007, Sarah, who had refused to cut her hair ever since it began growing back after chemotherapy, chose to cut off her long beautiful mane and donate it to Wigs 4 Kids, an organization that supplies hairpieces to cancer victims.
    She had been the recipient of such a gift at the age of 2, and at the age of 9 she wished to give back and help another child.
    At the Firefighters Christmas Party Dec. 17 of this year, sister Stella won one of the bicycles that were given away. Stella donated her winning bike back to the school and asked that it be given to another deserving child.
    It is no accident these “poster” girls grace a Christmas card. They embody the best of the spirit of Christmas, and they keep it going throughout the year.
    If you wish to know more about Family House, you can visit its website at If you wish to donate to the organization, call (415) 476-8321 or mail to Family House, 50 Irving Street, San Francisco, CA 94122.

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