Mes­sage from Livy, 7: Stay brave like a tiger. Aunt’s book helps

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY CAR­MEN GE­ORGE cge­[email protected]­ Car­men Ge­orge: 559-441-6386, @Car­menGe­orge

Livy Garcia, 7, loves her aunt’s new book, “Tiger Livy.”

“It’s about me be­ing di­ag­nosed with JM,” Livy explained last week.

Livy has ju­ve­nile der­mato­myosi­tis, a rare au­toim­mune dis­ease that can be life-threat­en­ing. The dis­ease at­tacked her mus­cles, caus­ing them to break down. She was di­ag­nosed at age 5.

Her aunt, Erin Garcia, an English teacher at Clo­vis West High School, wrote “Tiger Livy” to com­fort her. It was pub­lished ear­lier this year with do­nated il­lus­tra­tions from Clo­vis North High School stu­dent Ivreese Tong. Al­most all the pro­ceeds from book sales will go to sup­port the Cure JM Foun­da­tion.

“Livy plays with her friends, and then I get sick,” Livy said of the book at Vivily Vin­tage & Hand­made, a bou­tique near Fresno High School sell­ing her aunt’s story, co-au­thored by writer Betsy Miller.

“And then I have to go to the doctor. … I have to take medicine. I get a shot ev­ery week on Fri­day. … Then I get bet­ter and my cheeks are al­ready all the way small again.”

Livy gained weight be­cause of a strong steroid she had to take.

“That was kind of hard, huh?” Garcia asked her niece. “Do you think peo­ple some­times didn’t treat you the same be­cause you looked a lit­tle different?”

“Yeah,” Livy responded.

“Did you learn any­thing from that? If you see some­one who looks different, what are you go­ing to do now?”

“I say nice things to them,” Livy said, “and help them and tell them it’s OK that you look different.”

As Livy gains weight in the chil­dren’s story, she starts to com­pare her grow­ing stretch marks to tiger stripes. Think­ing of her­self as a tiger is empowering and helps change her mind­set for the bet­ter, which sup­ports her heal­ing.

“You do have a lot more power and con­trol than you think,” Garcia said of the power of the mind, “and there’s a lot of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that is com­ing out now that talks about how your mind­set is an in­cred­i­ble part of heal­ing.”

Livy, who lives in Ven­tura County in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, is dra­mat­i­cally health­ier than she was last year. Her aunt said just get­ting into bed used to be a challenge. Now Livy is in­volved in gymnastics and plays soc­cer, bas­ket­ball and soft­ball. She will start second grade in the fall.

Garcia de­cided to write “Tiger Livy” last year af­ter fail­ing to find a chil­dren’s book to help Livy cope with the men­tal, so­cial, emo­tional and phys­i­cal hard­ships that come along with a chronic ill­ness.

Her book is for sale on Ama­zon or in Fresno at Vivily Vin­tage & Hand­made and Petu­nia’s Place.

Clo­vis Ro­tary do­nated $1,000 that pro­vided 100 books to the na­tional Cure JM Foun­da­tion con­fer­ence near Chicago last month that Livy at­tended. The “Tiger Livy” team re­ceived an award from the foun­da­tion for “ex­traor­di­nary in­spi­ra­tion, lead­er­ship and ad­vo­cacy.”

One of the heroes of that team is Ivreese who, as a high school sopho­more, de­cided to do the book il­lus­tra­tions for free af­ter be­ing of­fered over $1,000 for her work. She spent close to 200 hours on il­lus­tra­tions for the book, created us­ing a com­puter pro­gram she taught her­self.

“I would say the main thing for the book was to en­cour­age and es­pe­cially in­crease aware­ness,” Ivreese said, “be­cause you don’t see these kind of top­ics in chil­dren’s books, es­pe­cially. I’m just re­ally glad we were able to get it out there in the world.”

Ivreese and Garcia want to start work­ing on another chil­dren’s book to­gether later this year.

Garcia hopes “Tiger Livy” also helps chil­dren who aren’t sick bet­ter un­der­stand what kids with an ill­ness are go­ing through.

She com­pared her niece’s ill­ness to can­cer, which can go into re­mis­sion.

“She’s do­ing great,” Garcia said of Livy. “She’s def­i­nitely on the road to recovery.”

Livy has this mes­sage for oth­ers suf­fer­ing from an ill­ness: “Stay brave like the tiger.”

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA [email protected]­

Livy Garcia, 7, cen­ter, laughs with her aunt Erin Garcia, right, and Clo­vis North stu­dent Ivreese Tong, 16, at Vivily Vin­tage & Hand­made June 28 in Fresno. Erin Garcia co-au­thored “Tiger Livy,” a book il­lus­trated by Tong, based on Livy Garcia’s strug­gle.

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