by KELLY GUSICH | photos by Zeena Gregg Photography


Maribel Dean lived in PQ for 27 years, and after she and her husband Robert were married, he fell in love with the family-oriented community. They have now lived in Rancho Peñasquitos as a family for three years. Robert is an MRI Imaging Assistant at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, while Maribel is a registered nurse at Scripps Memorial in Encinitas. They couldn’t have known that their backgrounds in the medical community would have such a test.

Robert and Maribel’s son Malakai (Kai) was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma, a very rare cancer, just five days before his first birthday. He is the only one in San Diego to be diagnosed with this type of cancer at such a young age. Kai had started crying when people touched his left foot when he was only four months old. They noticed a lump there at six months, and at nine months the lump started to grow and become discolored. A biopsy of the lump revealed the devastating diagnosis.


“We were fortunate enough to get three professional opinions from Rady Children’s Hospital, Stanford, and UCLA Medical Center,” Maribel confided. “All three institutions came back with the same treatment plan.” Since Kai was the only one in San Diego with this rare cancer, the Deans met with the sarcoma oncology team at UCLA Medical Center. The center was led by Dr. Noah Federman and oncological surgeon Dr. Nicholas Bernthal, “who we fell in love with and decided this is where we will get the best treatment for our son.”

Malakai had a successful Syme’s amputation of his left foot, and is now pain and cancer free!


Through working with a prosthetist here in San Diego, he now has his prosthetic foot and has slowly and surely taken his first steps with it. All the medical teams will continue to monitor Kai. He is a new member of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and has been named a Wednesday Warrior through the Sarcoma Foundation of America. “He is a thriving and growing little warrior who has kicked cancer goodbye,” Maribel shared. She continued, “Cancer knows no age or demographic. Make sure to always be open with your child’s doctors. Ask lots of questions and be sure you understand all of your options.”

The Deans love outdoor activities in San Diego, and Kai adores making music, exploration, reading, and arts and crafts. Now they are thankfully able to enjoy all San Diego has to offer.


Parents: Maribel and Robert Dean
Children: Malakai Dean (17 months)
Community: Rancho Peñasquitos
Parents’ Hometowns: Maribel – Rancho Peñasquitos; Robert – Mira Mesa
Parents’ Occupations: Maribel – RN; Robert – MRI Imaging Assistant
Favorite Places in 92129: Hilltop Park, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish