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Fundraisers set for 10-year-old with rare form of cancer

ARIZONA CITY — Volunteers are hoping to find a new house and financial assistance for the family of a 10-year-old with a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

Oliviah Hill hasn’t been able to sit down, lie on her right side or walk without a walker for more than a year. She has undergone 10 surgeries and has a large open wound where much of her right buttock muscle has been removed.

“She’s in a lot of pain but she’s always cheerful,” said her mother, Leann Riddle.

Until about a year ago, Oliviah was an ordinary, healthy girl. She was looking forward to going swimming with friends when the family went to buy her a swim suit one spring day.

“I was watching her walk in the store and noticed something seemed funny about the way she was walking,” Riddle said. “When she went in to try on the bathing suit, I noticed her buttock was swollen. I took her to the doctor thinking it was a spider bite. I wasn’t even thinking of cancer.”

After a series of tests and scans revealed that the swelling was due to a tumor, she was admitted to the pediatric oncology unit of a Valley children’s hospital.

She was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 1, a condition in which often benign tumors can grow on various parts of the body. But Oliviah’s NF-1 tumor was on her stomach and it wrapped around various other organs.

It had grown so large that it broke off and caused other, malignant tumors, Riddle said.

She also was diagnosed with malignant neoplasm of peripheral nerves and autonomic nervous system and hydronephrosis of her right kidney. Her condition was deemed rare and aggressive.

“They couldn’t remove the stomach tumor because it was too dangerous,” Riddle said. “It was a lot to take in.”

She was put on a course of chemothearpy and radiation treatments.

“She never got sick from the chemotherapy, but she was tired and all of her hair fell out. She’s always been such a fashionista that she was devastated by losing her hair. She had such pretty long, black hair,” Riddle said.

During a surgery to remove the tumor from her buttock, Oliviah’s heart stopped. While her heart was restarted, she remained unconscious for more than 24 hours.

“The doctors weren’t sure why she coded during that surgery,” Riddle said. “She also never made it to her 13th week of chemo because her heart rate went up too high.”

Removing the tumor required that much of the muscle also had to be removed. The wound required 44 stitches and Oliviah had to learn to walk again using a walker. She’s had nine consecutive surgeries to her buttocks and legs in attempts and slow the progression of her cancer and requires permanent ongoing wound care at home.

“She still has cancer,” Riddle said. “She was supposed to do 20 weeks of chemo therapy but we never got that far. When she was having chemo, she went from 80 pounds to 50 pounds.”

Caring for the wound is a full-time job. While Oliviah’s father works construction, Riddle had to quit her full-time job to care for her child, leaving the family struggling financially.

The family, which includes Oliviah along with her mother, father, brother and sister, currently live in a three-bedroom home with Oliviah’s grandmother and others in Arizona City.

The conditions are not ideal, said Kembly Mourelo of the Alliance Cancer Support Center in Casa Grande, who began a fundraising effort to help the family.

“She currently shares a house with 10 people and shares a room with her parents and sister. She needs more space,” Mourelo said. “Oliviah’s condition is extremely painful, incredibly debilitating and is something no person on this Earth should have to experience, let alone an innocent 10-year-old child.”

Ideally, Oliviah needs a new home in Casa Grande within 20 minutes of the Valley so she can be closer to doctors, Mourelo said.

Because she has trouble walking, the home needs to be handicap accessible with a handicap accessible shower. They are hoping to find a one-story home with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and tile flooring.

Riddle said they’d like to rent, but their income shortfall is about $300 a month for a suitable home in Casa Grande.

Fundraisers are aimed at helping to cover living expenses and costs associated with medical care, which include surgeries, wound care, special medical furniture, handicap accessible changes to the home and overall expenses.

“Oliviah has continuous wound care and medical needs,” Mourelo said. “Her family is very proud and personally saddened and humbled to request financial assistance on a monthly basis, but their daughter Oliviah’s tragic situation unfortunately warrants it at this time.”

Mourelo said the family has received some donations from the Casa Grande Rotary Club and other organizations, but much more is needed.

A Go Fund Me account has been started with a goal of raising $100,000 for the family to cover the cost of housing and other expenses.

To donate, visit the Go Fund Me site at https://gf.me/u/x96qyn or call Mourelo at 520-431-2735.

Pacts with UA, ASU advance Pinal County tech corridor

FLORENCE — The Pinal County Board of Supervisors approved agreements with two state universities Wednesday related to the future Arizona Technology Corridor through Pinal County.

The Technology Corridor will highlight the county’s business clusters near the interstate highways and promote the area as a place to build and collaborate with similar industries, according to plans.

The board approved an agreement between Pinal County and the Arizona Board of Regents for the planning and implementation of the corridor. The agreement gives Pinal County the benefit of University of Arizona’s research, planning and leadership, Tim Kanavel, Pinal County economic development manager, told the board. Total cost to the county will be $225,000 over an 18-month period.

“This is going to be a long process; it’s not going to be done within a day or two, or even a couple of years. We need to plan it and we need to plan it right.” It’s not just recruiting companies, but developing the infrastructure to meet their needs, Kanavel said.

“This could be up to a 35-year project … it’ll take that long to develop all the property. And (UA is) talking close to $70 billion worth of high-tech companies we could bring into this corridor. That’s their estimate, not ours.” Kanavel said a UA representative will be available for monthly or quarterly updates to the board.

In a few weeks, Kanavel said he expects to be able to announce a foreign investor planning a technology center in Pinal County.

The board also approved an agreement with Arizona State University for the Seidman Research Institute to assess the economic potential of an inland port in Pinal County. The cost of the study is $108,200 and is included in the county’s new annual budget.

According to ASU’s written proposal, Pinal County’s strategic location has prompted several discussions about an inland port. An inland port, or dry port, is a distribution hub, usually connected by rail to one or more seaports. Potential locations for a new port include Pinal Airpark, Red Rock and the railways near Arizona Farms Road near Florence.

Manager’s report

Pinal County Manager Louis Andersen reported the county had 1,737 active COVID-19 cases. He said the county would submit a request for $34.9 million in federal CARES Act reimbursement for public health and public safety expenses related to COVID-19. The application was reviewed by the state auditor general and the Governor’s Office, “and they said our application looked great, so hopefully we’ll see something within five to seven days.”

Andersen continued that the county’s “Business Sustainability Program,” to help businesses struggling as a result of COVID-19, began Monday. The program has received 44 applications from all over the county and has already issued three checks totaling $23,635. Five applications were rejected for being non-commercial or from a non-qualifying business.

State Route 24 between Ellsworth and Ironwood roads is 95% designed and the Arizona Department of Transportation is putting it out for bid at the end of the month, Andersen said.

He also provided an update on area wildfires.

Other action

The board also:

Approved the Gila River Indian Community’s terms for right of way associated with improvements to Hunt Highway and authorized the county attorney to prepare the documents necessary for transfer of right of way.

  • Approved the creation of a new position, deputy director of facilities management. Pinal County Facilities Management Director Archie Carreon told the board the position is included in the new fiscal year budget. Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said the county is growing and the position is needed. He added he liked that Carreon was thinking ahead to a succession plan for when Carreon retires in a year.
  • Approved the Fiscal Year 2019-20 Market Adjustment and Equity Compensation Plan. To help maintain market competitiveness and help recruitment and retention of county employees, an additional adjustment of 0.5% is authorized for eligible employees. The across-the-board increase will be applied before any market-based changes are applied, according to the plan.

Market adjustments and across-the-board increases will be made at the beginning of the last pay period in the old fiscal year.

Directed the Pinal County attorney to file a civil action against B.A. Hong Inc. and Hong’s Family LLC for violations of Pinal County Air Quality regulations at a gas station and convenience store at 2012 N. Trekell Road in Casa Grande.

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Pinal supervisors stop short of requiring masks

FLORENCE — Residents in unincorporated Pinal County will be "highly encouraged" to wear face coverings in public to slow the spread of COVID-19 in a resolution pending before the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

A majority of the board opted not to “require” face masks, or impose the resolution on the county’s cities and towns.


The board met in special session Friday to consider a resolution, but ultimately tabled it until their June 24 meeting. Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, attended the meeting by phone, and due to technical difficulties, was unable to read the final version of the resolution Friday afternoon.

“I need some time to look at it,” Miller said. Also attending by phone was Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, who was awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

The resolution could be in effect for two years until a great majority of Pinal County has immunity to the coronavirus, either from antibodies from fighting it off or with a vaccine.

Supervisor Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville – the only supervisor who advocated for “requiring” masks -- said under the circumstances there was no urgency in passing the resolution Friday. He said the county has been encouraging social distancing and wearing masks for the last 2 ½ months, “and it’s not working. So the urgency is gone for me, since we’re not requiring it.”

The board has the authority to require masks throughout Pinal County if it wished to. Deputy County Attorney Chris Keller told the board, “when it comes to public health declared emergencies, you have the authority countywide for public health and safety in those situations. In other situations you do not. But once you declare a public health emergency for the county, you do have certain powers that go with that.”

Supervisor Todd-House, R-Apache Junction, said this would put the county at odds with cities such as Apache Junction who have already opted not to require masks. Goodman said the town of Queen Creek is also not mandating masks, although “they’re strongly encouraging it.”

Rios responded he didn’t disagree, “but at the end of the day, we have a lot of individual folk out there who don’t give a hootenanny. They may have COVID-19, they’re asymptomatic, and they’re out there spreading this. … And if they’re not doing their due diligence to protect the rest of society, that is my concern.” He said cases are increasing statewide.

He continued if 84% of the county’s intensive care beds are filled now, and the disease continues to spread, “we are going to wind up in a situation where we don’t have enough beds.”

Goodman said he and family members were tested Friday and hadn’t heard the results, but “we’ve been feeling great, we’ve been feeling good.” He said he appreciates those who’ve offered prayers for him and for Sheriff Mark Lamb, who has tested positive.

But Goodman continued that government shouldn’t “get in the way of personal responsibility. When we start to do that, we take away the liberties, we take away people’s rights. I’m not in the habit of doing that, nor will I ever be.” He said people already “have the responsibility of being good citizens.” Goodman also thanked Rios for wearing a mask Friday.

The resolution recommends that children under age 2 not wear a face covering. Miller said he has seen people trying to put masks on children, “and I don’t see that being very effective.”

Miller asked how long the resolution would be in effect. Dr. Shauna McIsaac, Pinal County public health director, said the emergency can end when there’s 60% to 70% immunity in the community. This can be achieved when people have antibodies from having had the infection, or the availability of an effective vaccine, hopefully in about 18 months.

“So somewhere between 18 and 24 months of an effective vaccine being developed and then distributed, and achieving 60% to 70% immunity in our community, would be the goal,” McIsaac said.

“So we’re wearing masks for two years now?” Miller asked.

“Absolutely,” McIsaac replied. She added there is currently a lack of effective tests for the antibodies and there are a lot of errors. She told the board that health officials strongly encourage washing a cloth mask every evening and letting it dry.

Miller said he doubted people would continue wearing masks for the next two years.

At the suggestion of Board Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, the resolution adopts the requirements for businesses issued in conjunction with Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order on June 17.

The resolution specifies that “face covering” means a covering made of cloth, fabric or other soft or permeable material, without holes, that covers the nose and mouth and surrounding areas of the lower face, or a full plastic face shield.

All members of the public are “highly encouraged” to wear a face covering inside or outside a facility as they seek or receive Pinal County government services. Masks are also encouraged when people are boarding and riding public transportation or paratransit or are in a taxi, private car service, or ride-sharing vehicle.

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Az Fire District board adopts $1.5M budget

ARIZONA CITY — The Arizona City Fire District board has adopted a final budget of $1.5 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The board is still in the process of filling a vacant seat. Due to COVID-19 the board’s meetings are still being held telephonically, which is why board Chairman Tim McCain suggested at the June 8 meeting that the board wait on selecting a new member.

“I would like for us to try to hold off just to see if this COVID thing will calm down a little bit and we might be able to be together to make that decision so we can actually have the ability to converse,” McCain said. “We’re going to push that until the next meeting, and we will notify those applicants that we will be doing that interview at the next meeting.”

The board has 120 days from when a board member’s resignation is approved to fill the vacancy.

Fire Chief Jeff Heaton updated the board on grants the district has applied for which total over $1.5 million for manpower, supplies and equipment. The district has not yet been awarded any of the grants.

“We had some deadlines on when they had to be filed by,” Heaton said. “But due to the COVID-19 it’s kind of a soft deadline versus a hard deadline. We’ve made all the original deadlines, but some of them have changed because they can’t be processed the way they traditionally were so we’re continuously updating those.”

Heaton also told the board that the district recently put additional manpower out for social unrest that was happening at the time of the meeting.

“We’ve brought out additional coverage on those dates that were identified (by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office),” Heaton said. “There’s been demonstrations every day in Casa Grande, we’ve gotten some intelligence that they were going to come down here. We’ve had a couple protest people with some signs, it’s very low, single-digit numbers but we are so close to the police station here that we want to make sure we’re prepared if we have some intelligence that tells us that we need to respond with additional companies.”