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Candy Says 

The true story of a rare illness

Wednesday, Oct 16 2002
Maybe hedonism does keep you fit Before this summer, Candida Martinez led a very healthy life. The 24-year-old assistant booker and manager for the Justice League abstained from drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol, practiced vegetarianism, and ran seven miles a day. "I didn't even drink soda or eat candy bars," she says during a phone conversation. "Of all my friends, I was the most anal about my health." So it came as a big surprise when, on June 2, she collapsed on the floor of her apartment while throwing up blood. By the time a neighbor rushed her to St. Mary's Hospital, Martinez had lost consciousness; her mother had to be summoned to give the staff her medical history.

Thus began Martinez's horrific odyssey: in and out of the hospital for the next 2 1/2 months, undergoing two major operations, losing over seven feet of intestine, and nearly dying. Miraculously, she recovered, but not before being presented with a hospital bill for more than $400,000 -- a bill she couldn't afford, given that she had no health insurance and couldn't go back to work right away.

When Martinez first entered the hospital in June, she was diagnosed with Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome, a rare, life-threatening illness that attacks the digestive system and affects one in 25,000 people. (Ben Watt of Everything But the Girl went through a similar struggle in 1992, which he chronicled in Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness.) Via CAT scans and ultrasounds, Martinez's doctors discovered she had a series of growths in her guts that had caused them to fold over and die. The surgeons immediately went in and removed more than three feet of her bowels, hoping that the remaining infected tissue would heal with antibiotics. During the subsequent month in the hospital, Martinez grew worse instead of better, losing 35 pounds and acquiring several new infections. On July 4 she returned to surgery; the doctors removed about four more feet of intestines. "It had been four or five weeks since I'd had food or anything to drink," she recalls. "My body went into shock after the second surgery -- not a coma, but like one. I had zero strength and I had caught pneumonia."

On July 12 her family gathered around her as a priest read her last rites. Amazingly, she persevered, growing strong enough to leave the hospital for good on Aug. 14. Even then, she remained on a strict diet of cold liquids and baby food, and was confined to her bed. She didn't have the strength to return to work at the Justice League or Studio Z (where she also did promotions), and handling press for the San Francisco Jazz Festival, as she'd planned to do, was out of the question. With the help of a social worker, she applied for Medi-Cal, although that didn't stop creditors from calling.

In the end, what saved Martinez from financial ruin was a wellspring of support from the music community. In July, August, and September, Martinez's friends -- in particular Allen Scott of Mystery Machine Productions, Josh Bailin of Susquehanna Radio, and John Miles and Robert Kowal of Sunset Promotions -- held four benefits in her honor. The roster of artists who donated their efforts reads like a who's who of Bay Area hip hop, jazz, and turntablism: live acts such as Cannonball, Brass Monkey, KAYATRiP!, Kooken & Hoomen, and Psychokinetics; DJs J-Boogie, Mr. E, Shortkut, Vinroc, Soul Salaam, Motion Potion, and Zeph; and break dancers Sisterz of the Underground. Local businesses kicked in, too, with the likes of Postrio, the Beach Chalet, the Grand Cafe, Marine World, Great America, and Blake's Auto Body donating prizes for raffles. All told, the benefits raised $5,000 -- enough to keep Martinez above water.

"I've gotten a tremendous amount of love and support," Martinez says. "I never would've expected the sense of community I've felt coming out of the hospital with these benefits. I didn't even know Mr. E, and he was doing one of the shows. ... A lot of the musicians and the people involved -- they don't have health insurance. I think this is kind of a wake-up call as well."

For now, Martinez is slowly nursing herself back to health. She's eating solid foods again, doing a little publicity for the Justice League, and hoping that her Medi-Cal application comes through soon. Best of all, she just celebrated her 24th birthday. "I usually don't make a big deal of it, but this year I feel I have to do something special, considering I almost didn't have one at all." To donate or learn more, go to

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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