It's a Tuesday morning, and 3-year-old Ricardo Buzo Jr. runs past a visitor to tell the woman standing in the kitchen he's hungry.
He says the words "mom" and "cheese" clearly, and his mother cuts him a small piece before placing the slab back in the refrigerator.
Moments later, with mom distracted by the visitor, Ricardo -- with a twinkle in his eye -- returns to the refrigerator to retrieve the slab, running off to gnaw on it until he's caught red-handed.
No one but his parents, close family and a few dozen medical experts know how remarkable that scene is.
Ricardo -- the subject of a Record story in February 2010 before he underwent a complex bone marrow transplant at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center -- is a Hurler's kid, a survivor of a rare genetic disorder that, if left untreated, leads to death during childhood.
The treatment has shown to have mixed results, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
And Ricardo's donor -- his father -- wasn't a completely compatible donor.
"He is one lucky boy who responded well to the stem-cell transplant. He survived with little complication," said Dr. Sonali Lakshminarayanan, a pediatric oncologist and hematologist at Kaiser Permanente's Roseville Medical Center who is one of Ricardo's numerous physicians.
"The main complications we see are cardiac and lung (problems). (Children with Hurler's) usually are very short, they do not have an incredible IQ, but the transplant definitely changes the outcome and decreases cardiac complications and facial deformities, so overall it has done an incredible job," she said.
Ricardo can expect "prolonged survival without complications. Hurler's can be reversed completely."
Ricardo is about a year behind in his development compared with other children his age, but that doesn't faze his parents, Lupe Buzo and Ricardo Buzo Sr., not after what they've been through just to keep their only child alive.
Two years ago, Lupe Buzo, 33, described her son in a word as "loving." During his first nine months -- before his Hurler syndrome diagnosis -- he suffered from persistent pneumonia, respiratory viruses and hernias in his lower abdomen. With the diagnosis, the family learned that there is no cure for the enzyme deficiency that results in a buildup of sugars in the body's tissues that can lead to organ failure, mental retardation that gets worse over time, joint stiffness, deafness and thick, coarse facial features.
Recently, Buzo chose two new words to describe her son: "brave and courageous." She explained that he underwent not one, but two transplant procedures following multiple rounds of chemotherapy to wipe out his immune system. The first transplant of cord blood stem cells did not engraft or show any growth after the first 25 days, so doctors looked to Ricardo Sr., 34, as an emergency donor.
"I'm only a half match," he said, describing a procedure known as a haplocompatible transplant. "They admitted me to the hospital for a week, hooked me up to a dialysis machine and gave me a drug that increased my stem cells. My bones were aching for a week."
Ricardo Sr.'s bone marrow was then infused intravenously into little Ricardo's bloodstream, along with stem cells from another anonymous donor -- after Ricardo Jr. underwent another round of chemotherapy. After nine days, the marrow showed signs of growth in Ricardo Jr. By March 2011, the transplant marrow had completely engrafted, according to his doctor.
Ricardo Jr. spent six months at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, mostly in a special isolation room to protect him from infections while his immune system was rebuilding. He required constant oxygen. During that period, he went into cardiac arrest three times and caught fevers raising his body temperature to 104 degrees. His small body was exposed to dozens of CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging procedures, and he survived graft-vs.-host disease, where the donor's T cells attack certain tissues or organs of the transplant recipient.
While Dr. Sonali said Ricardo Jr. is "a perfect example" of what happens when a transplant is successful, she said it will take a while for his condition to reverse itself. And, she cautioned, "it is not completely reversible." He continues to be seen by an eye specialist, bone specialist, a heart doctor and several physicians on a regular basis.
"All the prayers from our family members, friends, our church (West Coast World Outreach) and church members got us through," Lupe Buzo said.
"When he stopped breathing, God helped him. I wasn't afraid to say it out loud. It's been constant prayer," she said, noting that learned a lot about herself when she was able to be strong for a family she got to know in the children's hospital as they watched their own son die.
During the time the Buzos spent in San Francisco, Lupe Buzo lost her job, and the family lost their home of 10 years, so when the Stockton natives returned they moved in with her sister until they could rent a clean, almost new home nearby.
"We had to start from scratch," Lupe Buzo said, noting that a community fundraiser held around the time of the transplant was a big help in getting the family back on stronger financial footing. Ricardo Sr.'s employer-sponsored health insurance is covering most of the family's medical bills.
They set the house up as an indoor playground so Ricardo Jr. could be active while remaining safe from infections.
He was hooked up to a 100-foot-long tube providing oxygen through a nose cannula that even allowed him the freedom to go upstairs.
During this time, Lupe became pregnant and carried a daughter full term that resulted in fetal death on July 7, 2011. It is unknown if she would have suffered from the same genetic disorder that affects one in 200,000 children.
Buzo, who revels in the fact she has a 3-year-old running underfoot these days -- and maybe getting into a little mischief now and then -- is writing a book about the entire experience titled '7 Long,' a reference to the UCSF bone and marrow transplant unit where, she said, "miracles happen every day there."