Cancer survivor running as Democrat against Kelsey in Senate District 31

Gabriela Salinas, a native of Bolivia who gained media attention as a childhood cancer survivor treated at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, is seeking the Democratic nomination to the state Senate seat now held by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown. WMC-TV says her life story “has plot twists worthy of a Steven Spielberg film.”

The latest turn of events has the three-time cancer survivor puling a petition to run for the Tennessee State Senate.

“We need better leadership,” said the now 29-year-old after obtaining paperwork to qualify as a Democratic candidate for Senate District 31: Germantown, east Shelby County and Hickory Hill.

That’s a long way from her native Bolivia where in 1996 doctors discovered “Gabby” had a malignant tumor. She was 7. The Salinas family decided to travel to New York City to seek treatment for their daughter.  That’s where doctors determined the child was in a fight with a cancer called Ewing sarcoma in the form of a tumor at the base of her spine. But lacking medical insurance, New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center told the Salinas family they’d have to produce a fortune: a $250,000 deposit for treatment.

That harsh reality was too much to bear for Gabby’s aunt, a waitress at a New York restaurant where a reporter for the New York Daily News noticed her tears. Gabby’s story promptly appeared in the next day’s newspaper.

The report captured the attention of the one New Yorker who would change Gabby’s life: Marlo Thomas, daughter of Danny Thomas, Founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Thomas made arrangements for Gabby to travel to St. Jude where families do not receive a bill for treatment, food, accommodations, or travel. Those costs are covered by the generous donors to St. Jude. 

…On April 14, 1997, a traffic accident on Interstate 40 in West Tennessee killed Gabby’s father, her sister Valentina, and paralyzed her then expectant mother, Jacqueline.  They were rushed to a hospital in Brownsville, TN.

“The hospital that my siblings and I were taken to when our family had a fatal accident in Brownsville had closed. That was a major driver for me to pull my petition—knowing that we have entire communities without a lifeline,” said the aspiring candidate.

Haywood Park Community Hospital closed in Brownsville in July 2014. Salinas says advocating for better healthcare for Tennesseans will be a launching point for the campaign.

Note: Kelsey, a leader in the successful effort to block Medicaid expansion in Tennessee, has sent an email to supporters announce he had an opponent and urging donations to his campaign. Says the email solicitation: We need to protect the conservative values in Germantown, East Memphis and Cordova!

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