Graduate with terminal cancer celebrated through car parade

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- High school graduations are now celebrated in drive-by processions, rather than a traditional march across a stage because of the coronavirus.

One took place in a Crosby subdivision Saturday, and it took on extra meaning because of the person who was celebrated, and what force of will and faith it took for him to earn a diploma.

Eighteen-year-old Tony Murillo was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia last August. Rather than being in classrooms and at football games, he was a patient at Texas Children's Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. Eventually, he underwent a bone marrow transplant.

He went into remission for three months, but then the cancer returned, his mother said. It was worse than before. Tony is now on home hospice.

The family's neighbor Monica Franco is close to the Murillo's. "I introduced them to my church at Crossroads Fellowship, and Tony became involved. He found faith. Recently, the youth minister used him as an example, to live on purpose, for a purpose, and with purpose. That's really the purpose Tony is trying to get to everybody."

The procession down the neighborhood street began with a Crosby Fire Department truck, with horns and sirens. It was followed by a car, with Texans player Justin Reid in the passenger's seat. He was brought to the event by the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Family Alliance, which works with young patients at Texas Children's Hospital, among others.

Reid and Tony embraced as old friends. ""I met him in the hospital the first time, and he came on the sidelines for one of my games," he said. "This is my guy right here," as he congratulated him on his graduation.

Another visitor was Tony's oncologist, Dr. Joanna Yi. She drove miles from the medical center to Crosby, to personally congratulate her patient.

"I want him to know how special he is," she said. "He's a really nice guy, and I really appreciate as his doctor, that whatever we ask of him, he does it. And whenever we give him bad news, he goes, okay, what do we do, and that's been such an example."

For her, "this is very bittersweet."

The procession lasted for half an hour. More people than the family expected drove by, honking and shouting Tony's name. And more people arrived for a small party in the front yard.

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate that so many people who take the time today to do this," said mother Angie Murillo. "He's showing us that we're given this opportunity to celebrate every second and every moment that passes. That's a blessing, and there are others who aren't getting that opportunity."

Looking at her son surrounded by friends and well-wishers, she said "this is a good day, and it's making him so happy. And mothers want to see their children happy. Please keep him in your prayers, while celebrating the greatness he's achieved."

Follow Deborah Wrigley on Facebook and Twitter.
Copyright © 2020 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.