In a town as small as Ripon, everyone knows your name — or at least they know someone who knows your name.

For Krystan Souza, this is a very good thing.

The 16-year-old Ripon High School student who will begin her senior year in the fall, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia two weeks ago. The onset of the cancer was sudden and furious, and Krystan is now undergoing treatment in Santa Clara at a Kaiser Permanente pediatric oncology ward.

The Ripon community has rallied together support for the Souza family with a blood drive, fundraisers, and countless prayers.

Hundreds of people from Ripon and the surrounding communities came to Ripon High School Monday to donate blood to Krystan through a Delta Blood Bank blood drive, organized by Ripon Chamber leaders, Helen Lopez and Dorothy Booth.

The donors came from all walks of life and were each touched in some way by the Souza family.

Renee Ohland, Tara Garrison, Christine Chapple, and Stephanie Sikma all came to donate because they know Krystan’s sisters, Jennifer and Rochelle. Phil Weerheim came because he takes his dog to get groomed at Krystan’s mom’s business, Debbie’s Dog Grooming. Steve Fredriks donated because Krystan’s sister once dated his nephew. There was even a kind stranger who came to donate and brought a card to the family because she heard Krystan’s story on the evening news.

Jennifer, Rochelle, Casey Jaspar, and Krystan’s best friend, Vanessa Mendoza all donated their blood and chopped off their hair to donate to Locks of Love.

“All of Ripon has been incredibly supportive – even people we didn’t think would be there, are,” said Jennifer Souza.

The Souza family began worrying about Krystan three weeks ago when she complained of pain in her knees. When the pain got worse, Krystan was taken to the emergency room where she was told that it was probably growing pains and that she should take some ibuprofen.

Krystan collapsed two days later and was rushed to Doctor’s Hospital in Manteca. Krystan’s family stayed with her through the night and went with her in the morning when she was taken by ambulance to the Kaiser hospital in Santa Clara which was better equipped to handle the severity of Krystan’s condition.

Krystan’s parents haven’t left Santa Clara since then and will be renting a house in the area, as treatments are likely to continue for at least another year. Krystan’s siblings, Jennifer, Rochelle and Kevin have been holding down the fort at home in Ripon, quitting other part time jobs to run their mom’s dog grooming business with long time employee, Casey Jaspar.

Krystan, meanwhile, has just finished 10 days of chemotherapy in which she was getting five doses each day. (In most cases, chemotherapy is administered once a week.) She has received blood transfusions every day that she has been in the hospital and desperately needs blood platelets.

Jennifer says that their main concern has been Krystan’s white blood cell count. In a normal immune system, white blood cell counts are about 10,000. Doctors generally start to worry when the count reaches 60,000, explained Jennifer. When Krystan was admitted in Santa Clara, her white blood cell count was at 170,000 and by the second day had doubled to more than 300,000.

Krystan had a stroke on Sunday night and has been running a 105.6 degree temperature. Jennifer says that hospital staff have been trying to keep Krystan’s temperature down with wet washcloths and ice cold water.

She has also developed pneumonia because she has no immune system due to the many blood transfusions. Her lungs filled with fluid and she now wears an oxygen mask at night and has tubes in her nose and throat during the day. On Monday, doctors installed a feeding tube.

Doctors are currently running tests to find out how effective the treatment has been so far, so that they can attack the disease from the best possible angle.

Jennifer describes her sister as feisty, stubborn, fun and energetic.

“She’s a girl who cares a lot about people and is up for anything,” said Jennifer. “It’s been really hard for us, because we’re a really close family. She’s the baby, we would all die for her.”

Krystan’s amazing strength and feisty nature has played a key role in her fight against cancer. Jennifer says that Krystan has been cracking jokes in the hospital and only cried once, when she saw their dad crying.

“My parents are all right. The first week was really emotional and there were a lot of break downs. Now they’re in fighting mode,” said Jennifer. 

A fund to help with ever-mounting medical costs has been set up for Krystan at the Bank of Stockton in Ripon.