Like all kids, Jesse James “JJ” Nelson-Baca’s Christmas list was extensive—a hoverboard, Switch, dirtbike, and for his cancer to be gone. While the last one isn’t achievable, the rest of his dreams came true thanks to the generous donations of locals. The last gift—a 50cc dirtbike—was gifted to him in a small community event on Dec. 31, 2020.
“It’s kinda scary,” he stated of his first few rides on his 50cc dirtbike.
Stephen “Redd” Arnold, a local motorcycle enthusiast, donated the last piece.
“It’s really cool and I’m happy that I was able to bring it over,” said Stephen “Redd” Arnold, the dirtbike reviver and donor. “It was given to me—it didn’t run. It had gas in the oil, the plastic parts were all broken up, two tires were flat, the front brake did not work. So, I got all that going and even put a paint job on it. It’s not perfect.”
But Jesse certainly didn’t care it wasn’t perfect. “I’m so happy,” he said of his new vehicle. In his first few dad-assisted rides on his dirtbike, Jesse’s delight was palpable.
Which is exactly what Jesse’s family was hoping for. Born 6 weeks early, Jesse’s doctors never expected him to survive. But survive he did. Today, he is thriving despite being diagnosed with ADHD, autism, an impulse disorder, and, most recently, thyroid cancer. Last year, doctors found 7 cysts in Jesse’s throat, and two were surgically removed.
“A lot of it has been really stressful,” said Jesse’s mother, Danyel Baca. “It’s hard because I just want to make sure that he lives the best life he could possibly live. And know that no matter through his disabilities and everything else that he has gone through, that he can do anything that he wants. He can accomplish anything that he wants.”
Then, in October of 2020, the cysts grew back and migrated to his lymph nodes. For Jesse, 2020 was so full of hospital visits and disability-related issues that he ended up becoming suicidal. While 2020 was bad for everyone, it was devastating for Jesse.
“Thomas has made such a world of difference in [Jesse’s] world,” Baca said. “Having people write him letters and setting up this surprise.”
For Jesse, it was definitely the surprise of a lifetime. Jesse took a ride in his dream car—a Chevelle—and received the last item on his Santa Wish List: a dirtbike. By the end of the whirlwind day, Thomas Owens, founder of PNW Custom Coupes and Sedans had granted all but one of Jesse’s Christmas wishes. Sadly, the car community hasn’t found a cure for cancer, though if they had, Jesse’d be first in line.
“I met him or heard about him in early October, he was in the hospital battling issues with the thyroid cancer. And he wasn’t really in the best of spirits,” Owens said. The first effort Owens lead was a mail-drive for cards. However, car enthusiasts blew those expectations away with everything from Amazon tablets to a Nintendo Switch, the money for a hoverboard, and more.
“I just got this feeling, and we didn’t want Jesse to know about it all until the day we brought it all to his door,” Owens recalls of bringing the gifts to the family in a socially-distanced, safe manner. “It’s just amazing.”
While Jesse isn’t the verbose kind of kid, you could tell he was overjoyed by the smile on his face. His laughter and happiness infecting all those who came to show support.
“It’s not about having a car or car shows,” Owens concluded. “This is what’s most important.”