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Kings make Karla's day

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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One 11-year-old Lincoln resident felt like a celebrity on Easter Sunday, complete with a limo ride and floor seats during the Easter Sunday Kings game. Karla Cruz, 11, who has been battling cancer for the past nine months, was granted a special day after her uncle, Ken Marlow, called Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren. “It was a surprise. I said I need to do something for her,” Marlow said. “She loves the Kings and I got in touch with Paul, who got me in touch with the California Police Youth Charities. They set it all up.” Shelgren said he wanted to help the family because “of how hard this little girl is fighting and how her spirits are.” “She’s a diehard King’s fan and (Marlow) wanted to know if I could help out getting her some Kings memorabilia,” Shelgren said. “This was totally over the top. It was a good thing they (California Police Youth Charities) did for the family. It was a fantastic day.” Rather than going to church like she was told by her family, a limo was waiting outside her Lincoln home at 1:30 p.m. on April 8. Several police SUV’s were with the limo, Marlow said, “with sirens and lights going and they escorted us out of town.” Karla was accompanied by close family members on the trip, as well as Shelgren and California Police Charities Executive Director Chris Eaton. Riding in the limo with her window down, Marlow said, “You couldn’t have taken the smile off of her face with a stick of dynamite.” In the back of the limo was a backpack full of Kings gear, according to mother Deborah Gutierrez, including a blanket, jacket, flag, wind sock and jersey. Lunch that day was at Joe’s Crab Shack in Old Town Sacramento, because as Gutierrez said, “It’s her favorite place to go.” “I had the coconut shrimp,” Karla said. “It’s my favorite thing to get.” After lunch, Gutierrez said, the limo pulled up and no one told her of the next destination. “We pulled into Power Balance Pavilion and her eyes got so big and she said ‘Are we going to the Kings game?’” Gutierrez said. “We told her yes and you are the special guest of the Kings tonight. You are a VIP.” Karla was introduced to several Kings players, and received a No. 12 Kings jersey signed by DeMarcus Cousins, a Cousins jersey and a basketball signed by all of the Kings players, Gutierrez said. “Cousins is her favorite player,” Shelgren said. “Every player who came to see her brought her something and took time to see her. She had a great time.” Before the game, Karla and her family went “behind the scenes” to see the locker room and a Kings pregame huddle, Gutierrez said. Karla, who said she has been to a Kings game before, sat court side for this game. “She said, ‘I can’t believe that really happened’ when we got home,” Gutierrez said. A shy and soft-spoken Karla seemed very grateful for the experience, simply saying “thank you” when asked by The News Messenger what she’d like to say about her special day. “It was fun and I was surprised,” Karla said. Her family described the day as a distraction from her battle with cancer. “It was nice to have a day away from nurses, to let her forget about it,” said Virginia Gutierrez, one of Karla’s sisters. “She deserves it. She’s put on one hell of a fight and continues to.” The cancer started in her leg, when Karla, who loves to play basketball, said her leg hurt, according to Marlow. “It started with osteosarcoma of the leg and she almost lost her leg,” Deborah Gutierrez said. “She went through a knee replacement and learning to walk again.” Deborah Gutierrez said the cancer spread to Karla’s lungs. “She still has a long road ahead of her and is getting chemo five days a week,” Deborah Gutierrez said. The chemo is being done to shrink tumors in her lungs, Deborah Gutierrez said. “She’s handling it well,” Deborah Gutierrez said. “I’m feeling good. I’m ready for it to be over,” Karla said. Karla, a Creekside Oaks Elementary School fifth-grader who is now being home-schooled, moved to Lincoln from El Salvador three years ago, Deborah Gutierrez said. “She is my niece, my husband’s brother’s daughter. I sponsored her to come over here and now she is a citizen,” Deborah Gutierrez said. Karla said she “didn’t speak English at all” when she came here but family members said she speaks fluently now. “I’m glad I came here,” Karla said. When Karla is not in Sacramento receiving chemotherapy, Deborah Gutierrez said, she spends a lot of time with Virginia and their sister Evelin Gutierrez-Jennings. “She likes how spoiled she is,” Virginia Gutierrez joked. “We do little things we know will make her smile.” Deborah Gutierrez said the three sisters became very close when Karla first moved to Lincoln. “It helps because she feels loved,” Deborah Gutierrez said. “She’s never had that feeling of security or family before.”