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Family friend, community gift puppy to Cranston girl battling leukemia

Izabelle Major and golden retriever Baxter. (WJAR)
Izabelle Major and golden retriever Baxter. (WJAR)
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A Warwick man recently went above and beyond for the daughter of one of his former co-workers.

For years, Steven Barbato has worked at Tasca in Cranston.

In 2015, he was introduced to Marilyn Martins, who also was an employee at the time. The two became fast friends, and the same went for her daughter, Izabelle Major.

“She used to come in and high five me and almost break my hand with so much joy and energy and excitement," said Barbato. "It was always exciting to see her."

Martin eventually left the company, but a few weeks ago, Barbato ran into her and Izzy at a restaurant.

"I saw Marilyn and I saw Izzy with the hat on and I could tell something was wrong but I didn't approach it that night. I waited and then called Marilyn," said Barbato. "I immediately wanted to help and do something for her because I don’t want to see any child sick but especially this one that I know personally. I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help put a smile on her face."

On June 6, 2022, Izabelle was diagnosed with Leukemia.

“My lymph nodes were very swollen and I felt very sore everywhere in my body," said Major.

“I remember that day," said Martins. "She was scheduled to go to dance and her teachers called because they knew it was not like Izzy to miss dance and they kept calling and texting. I just ignored them and the team came in, and I just knew that it was gonna be it. I don’t know why, my heart just said to be prepared to fight and battle your daughter's gonna have a battle. I knew I had to mentally be there for Izzy emotionally to just have that positive vibe all the time."

Izzy started treatment at Hasbro Children's Hospital. Currently, the 12-year-old is undergoing treatment. She visits Hasbro Children's Hospital every Monday and takes a chemo pill every day.

“Being at the hospital, Hasbro, wow couldn’t ask for a better team," said Martins. “The amount of support we've received from everyone, strangers, people I haven’t seen in years [who] have come forward to help Izzy and I and her dad Chris and the family. They’ve shown support in so many ways."

One of those ways was with the gift of a puppy. A few weeks ago, despite having asked Martins herself, Barbato learned through another co-worker that Izzy wanted a puppy.

“I’m not one to ever ask for help. I actually hate it to be honest. I like doing things on my own and never like to rely on a person and I think for the first time, I put my guard down and allowed people to help," said Martins.

Barbato put a down payment on a dog but since he has a lot of connections, he then put up a post on social media about his efforts. Instantly, people started pitching in money and dog necessities.

“When I asked her what she was going to name the dog is what really broke my heart a little bit. She said, 'Baxter.' I said, 'Why Baxter?' she said, 'Because that’s the name of the machine that gives me my chemo.' So, it’s hard to hear a 12-year-old say that so that really put a fire under me to get this done."

Matt and Shania Daily, two people he does business with at Suncoast Performance in Florida, said they wanted to donate a golden retriever puppy to Izzy. Barbato's friend, Cynthia Robinson Da Silva, flew down to Florida to get the puppy and bring it back to Rhode Island.

“She took the time out of her schedule to fly down Thursday and land at midnight leave on Saturday at 6 a.m.," said Barbato. "She wanted to make sure Izzy had that dog Saturday.”

“I just have always wanted a dog. I have had a dog in the past but I was very young and I don't remember really," said Major. “I’ve always wanted a dog just for comfort and just to make me feel good and happy."

In less than two weeks 'Baxter' was in Rhode Island. With the help of the community, Barbato also raised $1,000 to give to Izzy so she could buy Baxter whatever he needed for his new home. Michelle Laliberte got a basket together for Izzy alongside free 'comfort training' for the dog.

Last Saturday, Izzy met her new best friend. There was an instant bond.

“I was just so shocked, like, I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen so fast," said Major. “I did start to cry. I don't know why, but I did."

“I actually had to hold my tears in because I saw her face and I said, 'Oh my god, I’m going to start crying' but I didn’t want to miss that moment of seeing her so happy, so, her happiness makes me happy," said Martins.

“She didn’t have a very good day with her medicine that day and it was the best day in the world to give her the dog to lift her spirits as well as ours," said Barbato. “Mission accomplished in less than two weeks but without the 22 people that helped me and everyone else we wouldn’t be able to do it."

Izzy and Baxter have been inseparable. Now, she's not the only child.

"He sleeps with me at night, he loves to cuddle," said Izabelle Major. “It brings me comfort, it makes me feel good that since my diagnosis. Like I’m getting better now, but it just makes me feel happy and it takes my mind off of things that if I do have bad days, now I know he’ll be here with me."

“I’m truly a firm believer that not all hero’s wear capes and Steve is one of them," said Martins.

“I’m just so happy they got this dog for me," added Major. "I’m very grateful for these people."

Martin reached out to NBC 10's Sam Read on Monday to let her know Izzy recently received some great news. She's in the 'maintenance phase' of her treatment with a completion date set for July 12, 2024.

If you would like to donate to Izzy's ongoing medical expenses a GoFundMe page has been set up.

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