Fifth grader stars with Antonio Banderas in TV ads


Ten-year-old Melanny Fernandez is now co-starring in movie theater and television commercials with Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas.

The commercials are part of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s fourth annual “Thanks and Giving” campaign that asks consumers to “Give thanks for the healthy kids in your life, and give to those who are not.”

When Melanny, a fifth-grader at Clearview Elementary School in Herndon, was originally diagnosed at age seven with leukemia, the family was anxious about medical costs and was told by a local social worker to contact St. Jude.

According to a hospital spokesperson at St. Jude, no family is asked to pay for treatment and families are not asked about their immigration status.

At the hospital’s facility in Memphis, Tenn., Melanny, who is originally from Peru, received chemotherapy for 2 1/2 years, including the six months she had to reside there. She completed her treatment in Sept. 2006 and is currently doing well.

Melanny’s mother, Elizabeth Kukurelo, said the hospital’s patient liaison department contacted her about the acting role. Kukurelo said she expected Banderas to be “stuck up” but found the exact opposite to be true. “He was very nice and down to earth,” she said.

When she grows up, Melanny wants to be a television news anchor. In her commercial, she acts as a reporter and asks Antonio his age. He replies, “Ask me another question…”

“It was pretty fun, and even funner to know that I was helping St. Jude,” she said about the experience. “But it’s kind of weird to see yourself on TV.”

Melanny has been healthy for over a year now. “I consider her as healthy as she used to be,” Kukurelo said.