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'I’m speechless': Army veteran battling cancer helps legally blind Mesa street vendor

Sebastian Ibañez was gifted a minivan after his was wrecked in a crash.

MESA, Ariz. — A small act of kindness nearly three years ago was multiplied for Sebastian Ibañez on Tuesday.

A U.S. Army veteran he helped obtain N-95 masks for during the pandemic gifted him a 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan after Ibañez’s van was wrecked in a crash last Wednesday.

“I can’t believe it. I’m speechless,” he said. “I’m telling you, I’m mute. Now I’m blind, deaf, and mute. I cannot come up with words.”

Ibañez is a street vendor in Mesa. He began selling brooms, mops, dust pans, and other items in 2015, after he said he struggled to get a job because of his condition—he is legally blind and partially deaf.  

Although he doesn’t drive or have a driver’s license, he owns a van and uses it to move and store his product. Usually, his wife or a family member drive him to intersections across Mesa where he sells his goods.

The crash put his business on pause, until now.

Credit: 12News

Do good and good comes back to you

During the summer Ibañez scales his business and sells Mexican paletas, or ice pops made of fresh natural fruits. When the temperature drops in the Valley, he transitions and sells San Marcos-style-cobijas-- thick, warm, and traditional Mexican-made blankets.

When the pandemic hit, he also sold masks.

One of his customers, who had purchased a broom and mop from him years before the pandemic needed help getting N-95 masks after a cancer diagnosis.

“My wife reached out to him,” Ismael Murillo said. “I was really struggling because we then found out I also had COVID.”

Murillo was diagnosed with multiple myeloma or bone marrow cancer in 2019. He experienced liver and lung failure and in January 2020 he was put in a medically induced coma for two weeks.

At the time doctors couldn’t diagnose his symptoms, he said, but after an antibody test, he tested positive for COVID-19.

“It was so bad at one point the doctors told my wife to bring the kids by to say their goodbyes because they had no idea what was going on or what to do because COVID was still brand new,” Murillo said.

Credit: 12news

On February 11, 2020, he emerged from a coma and a day later, his breathing tube was removed, he recalled.

While the pandemic intensified, Murillo needed to protect himself, so they reached out to Ibañez for help obtaining N-95 masks.

“Since he was going back and forth to Mexico getting supplies so he could sell for himself, he managed to get some N-95 masks for us that lasted us almost a whole entire year,” he said. “Because of him, we were able to go out and do some things and get stuff we needed safely because we didn’t want to run the risk of getting COVID again.”

It is thanks to Ibañez’s small act of kindness, that Murillo, a U.S. Army veteran, began cancer treatment and went back to school feeling safe. With one arm hooked to a chemo IV and a laptop with the other, he completed a master’s degree at Grand Canyon University.

“[Ibañez] has gone through a lot and I could relate to what he is going through, through my own struggles and adversaries, and I just felt for him,” Murillo said. “He’s hit so many roadblocks, I’ve hit so many myself, and it was my turn to help him this time.”

Helping hand

Without asking for anything in return, Murillo gave Sebastian Ibañez a helping hand and gifted him a minivan on Tuesday.

The van needed a new battery and will need new tags, but overall is in good condition, Murillo said.

“It’s been good to us and hopefully it’ll be good to you,” he told Ibañez as he handed him the keys.

Credit: 12News

The gift was a positive note to a series of setbacks the street vendor had faced in recent months.

Before last Wednesday’s van crash, Ibañez’s family had been forced to move apartments after they were evicted. His disability checks arrive on the third of the month, but his rent was due on the first.

He said after multiple times of paying three or four days into the month, they were evicted.

Then, before the start of the new year business was slow. He didn’t sell enough products to come up with enough money to pay for his last semester at Arizona State University where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.

That forced him to delay his goal of graduating in May. He created a GoFundMe to fundraise and pay for his studies.

“When I was on the sidewalk once I was hit by a car,” Ibañez said. “My mops were burned outside my home. My wife has been fighting [thyroid] cancer for about two or three years now.”

His wife is stable, but her cancer levels have gone up, he said. Her AHCCS medical coverage was denied, so they travel to Mexico for treatments.

Ibañez said his wife works full time, despite experiencing pain in her back and leg.

“She is so strong, and I have to be strong with her,” Ibañez said. “So, I have to keep pushing to provide for my family.”

While he said he enjoys being his own boss, Ibañez hopes to become a car salesman. But his true passion is comedy and dreams of doing that professionally one day.

“Thank you, everyone, especially to Ismael,” Ibañez said. “I appreciate it so much.”

Adriana Loya is a bilingual multi-skilled journalist at 12News. She can be reached at aloya@12news.com.

Credit: Sebastian Ibañez

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