Community celebrates the life of Santiago ‘Santi’ Caldwell Arellano Osorio
On Aug. 8, the Encinitas community celebrated the life of Santiago “Santi” Caldwell Arellano Osorio, who lost his fight with brain cancer on May 27 at the age of 12.
Santi, an Ada Harris alumni, was a seventh grader at Oak Crest Middle School when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in November 2020.
Santi’s parents, Mariel and Cody Caldwell, and little brother, Zander, were joined by family and friends for a paddle out at Moonlight Beach, followed by a pickup baseball game at Encinitas Community Park with his Encinitas Little League friends (see photos from the event above).
During the paddle out about 100 people were in the water. Zander has always been terrified of the ocean and had never been in past ankle deep. With some encouragement, he jumped onto his father’s back and clinged to him during the paddle out, a moment Cody doesn’t think he or Zander will ever forget.
Out on the water, some shared remembrances of Santi but not many words were said as most people were just present in the moment.
“We spread his ashes,” Cody said, his voice choked by tears. “It was a beautiful day.”
Afterward the family went to the park for the pick-up game with Santi’s little league friends and families. Ted Haberfield, the Encinitas Little League board president, gave a speech about getting to know Santi, “how cool he was on the field” and how he represented the heart and spirit of the little league family.
Throughout the day of celebration, people shared memories about Santi.
“Multiple people said he would light up the room with his smile, that he never had a bad attitude,” Cody said. “He was always making sure friends had what they need.”
Some brought up the sweet connection he had with his younger brother and how he always cared for the little guys, not something you would expect out of a 12-year-old. “That stood out a lot,” his dad said.
And then there was baseball.
Santi was absolutely passionate about baseball and he loved the San Diego Padres—he considered himself Fernando Tatis Jr.’s biggest fan.
“I can’t tell you how it happened,” said Cody, who never played little league growing up and had never been a baseball fan as he was more into surfing and skateboarding.
When he was younger, Santi begged him to play catch and Cody quickly got into it. He said Santi wasn’t super athletic so he worried about him when he started playing little league but Santi did amazingly well. “Every time he got on base, he got hits and made plays,” he said.
Cody found himself becoming a baseball fan and said it was cool to see Santi excel on the field, through little league season, baseball camps and fall ball.
Santi also grew to be an avid surfer and skateboarder.
In the fall of 2020, Santi started to get extreme headaches and was feeling very sick, in and out of primary care as they searched for answers. After a CT scan at Rady Children’s Hospital, on Nov. 1 he was diagnosed with an inoperable high grade glioma in his thalamus, near the center of the brain. He had surgery and prepared for the fight ahead.
After being able to go home and begin recovery from surgery, Santi’s eyes got an upward gaze and he wasn’t able to see. He was admitted to the hospital again and couldn’t see, walk or talk. He was admitted the Monday before Thanksgiving and that night was non-responsive in the PICU, intubated and sedated. “We were supposed to lose him on Thanksgiving,” Cody said.
But Santi stabilized and began to improve and spent the following months in the hospital, receiving 50 days of proton therapy treatments. He began therapy and regaining his sight and walking some. The diagnosis was devastating on its own but this was also during a pandemic. Visitations were limited and in rotations, and relatives in Mexico faced challenges traveling across the border to be with Santi: “It was a complete nightmare,” Cody said.
On Jan. 22, the family was elated when Santi got out of the hospital. He was improving as he continued to undergo chemotherapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, and was fully talking again by March.
Make-A- Wish San Diego, Camping World and the San Diego Padres had found out about Santi through the @pray4Santi Instagram page and donated a camper to Santi and his family so they could enjoy outdoor adventures together, and also surprised Santi with a tour of Petco Park and a Tatis jersey in February.
Santi had been feeling pretty sick but Cody said that was the happiest he’d seen him in a long time.
That spring, the family was able to take road trips in the camper and visited both the Grand Canyon and family in Mexico.
It seemed like he was getting stronger but by late April, Santi’s condition began to worsen and in mid-May, the family had to make the difficult decision to transition Santi to hospice care. Santi was at home when he passed away on May 27.
“It was peaceful,” Cody said. “We found him at 8 a.m. in the morning peacefully sleeping, still holding his teddy bear as comfortable as can be.”
He had watched the Padres beat the Brewers the night before.
On Aug. 7, before the celebration of life, the Padres invited Cody, Mariel and Zander to a game, where they got a chance to meet Tatis as well as Manager Jayce Tingler and pitcher Joe Musgrove. The Padres gifted the family with a special framed jersey with Tatis’ number and Santi’s name across the back. A plaque read: In loving memory of Padres’ #1 fan, “I broke down, it was so beautiful,” Cody said.
The weekend was a wonderful way to remember all the things they loved most about Santi.
“He was always bringing joy to the room. He was just a beam of light and he didn’t have a bad thing to say about anyone,” Cody said. “He was just a positive, positive human being. He told us: ‘I want to get better but I don’t think I can.’”
What has moved Cody and Mariel during these last six months was how much support they received from others, including people who he didn’t even know that were willing to do whatever it took to help his family. Skateboarder Tony Hawk even sent a video wishing Santi well.
The Encinitas community, especially, rallied for Santi. A message reading: “Pray for Santi, Keep Fighting, We Love You” made it onto the marquee of the Paloma Theatre in December and local surfboard companies held a custom surfboard raffle to help raise money for Santi’s expensive medical bills, bringing in $14,000.
People showed up for Santi again and again and finally, to paddle out, to play ball and to remember the sweet boy with the shining smile.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. But when stuff like this happens, you do see that the community does stand up,” Cody said. “You see that there is decency out there.”
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