Against All Odds…

Mamma Mesha Irizarry Lives to Fight Another Year!

Ahimsa Porter Sumchai MD
9 min readDec 19, 2021


“Originally derived from the root name Micheal, Mesha stands for loyal, spiritual, warrior, strong and honorable. Females bearing this name are usually leaders, creative, successful in life.” Urban Dictionary []

Diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia called AML in July of 2021 and given “weeks” to live, Mamma Mesha — as she chooses to be called — is fighting back with love and good nutrition!

An unstoppable force collided with an immovable object on July 12, 2021 when community icon Mesha Irizarry learned she had an aggressive cancer of the bone marrow and blood called Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia or AML. After months of “feeling horrible” with pain in her bones, joints and rib cage, she sought repeat COVID -19 testing at nearby Southeast Health Center and a complete blood count or CBC. The COVID test was negative but the CBC revealed her white blood cell count to be wildly out of range. A normal human white cell count ranges from 3,400 to 9,600 cells per microliter. Her white cell count was over 16 thousand! The next morning she underwent bone marrow biopsy conducted by CPMC that confirmed the presence of immature blast cells interfering with the production of normal blood cells. She was told bluntly she was not a candidate for bone marrow transplant and had “weeks to live.”

“I wasn’t afraid when I heard the news…in some ways it came as a relief…I had felt horrible for two months with pain in my chest and ribs and at least I found out why.”

A beacon of strength in the Bayview Hunters Point community for 25 years, Mamma Mesha resolved she would live to be with her husband Remegio Fraga for his birthday on October 1st. A lifetime of service to noble causes as an early pioneer of AIDS services and shelter director for victims of domestic violence, Mesha Irizarry is remembered as the galvanizing force and indomitable voice of the Justice for Idriss Stelley Movement.

The only son of Mesha Irizarry, Idriss Stelley was a Heald College honor student who called 911 shortly after 11:00pm on June 13, 2001 summoning SFPD officers from three stations to Sony Metreon Theatre 14 where, within minutes of arriving on scene, they executed him in a firing storm of 48 bullets. Contrary to police statements he did not have a gun. Stelley’s death triggered a police reform movement in the approach to mental illness.
“The night he died I felt my soul tearing apart. He was my only child.” Idriss Stelley, a handsome 23 year old artist and web designer with a history of bipolar illness was killed by police at a movie theatre during a psychotic episode triggered during the ultra violent movie Swordfish.

Michele Eliana Irizarry was born in the Basque Country of northern Spain in 1947. Multiracial and fluent in four languages, she graduated from the Universite’ Bordeaux in France with a bachelors in clinical psychology. She was licensed in Family Law by the Instituet d’Etudes Politiques de Bordeaux from 1966 -1969. Both areas of training and expertise would come to serve her well.

The Biblical meaning of the name Mesha is: Burden, salvation. A female name of Hebrew origin, Mesha means deliverance. The African origin of the name Mesha means Queen.

Matt Smith writes in the SF Weekly…“Irizarry has spent her American life working with the downtrodden — substance abusers, the homeless, immigrants, runaways and battered women. She is now manager for a non profit Emergency Shelter Program which operates two domestic violence shelters and a homeless shelter. She has given seminars to police officers on responding to domestic violence, to situations involving drug use, and the manifestations of psychological illness.” [’re dead/]

Mesha Irizarry worked on the San Francisco General AIDS ward from 1986 to 1995 and as Program Director for the Shanti Project. From 1997 to 2000 she served as Shelter Director for La Casa de las Madres. Her work including police trainings to reduce excessive force in domestic violence altercations.

“I believe in healing through helping others.” Mesha Irizarry

La Mesha Irizarry by Fitu Petaia 2019 pen and color pencil 11X14"

Before Black Lives Matter…There Was Justice For Idriss Stelley!

Idriss Stelley was alone in crisis in an evacuated movie theatre. Police could have just waited him out or summoned a mental health expert to talk him down.

Irizarry is credited with galvanizing a city wide movement in the aftermath of the execution style killing of her gifted but troubled young son Idriss Stelley who suffered from bipolar illness. Stelley was accused of brandishing a bamboo-peeling tool with a 2-inch blade when nine police officers emptied their weapons into him as he stood alone in a dark evacuated movie theatre on the night of June 13, 2001. Experts argued there was no reason for the nine officers to have even entered theatre 14 with Stelley in obvious crisis. They could have easily — and safely -waited him out or summoned a mental health expert to talk him down or disabled him with a bean bag round -a 135 feet per second non-lethal weapon with knockdown power up to 20 feet away.

Police incident reports, coroners reports and autopsy findings were held for weeks in what experts believed was a “specious attempt to withhold information about the Stelley shooting until it faded from the public mind.” Irizarry waited three weeks for the release of her son’s body that was shrouded in heavy plastic to conceal the devastating damage to his skull and torso. When Idriss Stelley’s confiscated cell phone was finally released…it logged the last call he made in his life was to 911.

“Not everything ends the way you think it should!” John Travolta’s famous one liner in the ultra violent movie Swordfish about a $9 billion firearm heist and the spectacular killings of hostages. Summer Galbreath and Idriss Stelley — a computer science student at Heald College — attended the showing of Swordfish at the Sony Metreon theatre on June 13, 2001. Stelley asked Galbreath to leave the theatre. His prophetic last words were…”I’m going to die tonight.” A movie scene that might easily have triggered Stelley in which hostages are shot and blown up is here: Swordfish Movie Clip 2001 —

Irizarry prevailed in a wrongful death civil suit and was granted a $500,000 settlement she donated to establish the Idriss Stelley Foundation on 3rd Street and Palou. The settlement was the largest in San Francisco history involving police use of deadly force. Irizarry, with degrees in clinical psychology and family law, argued the police were not properly trained to deal with mentally ill suspects. The city attorney’s office concurred saying the city would face much greater liability if a jury agreed the Police Department systematically failed to train its officers. [–000-settlement-in-killing-by-cops-Mentally-2571948.php]

Life at the Intersection of Environmental and Social Injustice

Hidden Hazards of Bayview Hunters Point is a community led study conducted by Principal Investigator Raymond Tompkins and funded by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The study found elevations in the cancer causing volatile organic compound benzene in south — central Bayview Hunters Point.

For 25 years Mesha Irizarry has lived and served in a community nested within the perimeter of a state Superfund site and a system of three federal Superfund sites spawned by the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard along the South Basin shoreline. For 15 years she owned a home located south of the federal Superfund site at Yosemite Slough. This coastal region of Bayview Hunters Point is called south-central. It is vulnerable to sea level rise, shoreline contamination and earthquake liquefaction. Save for a smattering of liquor stores and fast food outlets along 3rd Street, it is a food desert. For many years Mesha Irizarry noticed a metallic taste in her mouth.

The region of Bayview Hunters Point designated south-central is sandwiched between a system of state and federal Superfund sites on Thomas Street, Palou Avenue, Crisp Road and Yosemite Slough.
The median income for residents living in south -central Bayview is $39,750 to $51,818. Youth comprise 26% of the population and 11% of residents are seniors according to MTA mappings.
South-central BVHP is the site of numerous toxic emission sources and a “nest” of sensitive receptors according to Hidden Hazards — a BAAQMD funded study led by PI Raymond Tompkins
Independent air monitoring conducted by San Francisco State University Chemistry Professor Peter Palmer and chemist Raymond Tompkins detected elevations in measured concentrations of the cancer causing volatile organic compound Benzene at the shipyard entry and in several BVHP South — central locations. Benzene has been shown to induce AML leukemia. Benzene detected in indoor residential air is most often due to cigarette smoke.
Mesha Irizarry was on cell phone with Summer Galbreath — Stelley’s fiancee — when she called from the lobby of the Sony Metreon theatre at 4th & Mission on the night of June 13, 2001. “They say he has a gun…he got no gun” Galbreath stated. The rounds of the firing squad as they overkilled her son rang out from the background of the mobile call. Grief, loss and anger led Mesha to chain smoke a pack of cigarettes a day in the aftermath of her son’s death. Photo from SFGATE January 12, 2012 — The Use of Force/In a darkened theater, 911 calls end in death.

Nature’s Pharmacy — The Power of Herbal Medicine and Nutrition

Mamma Mesha underwent a urinary toxic exposure screening to determine if chemicals in her environmental may have induced the highly aggressive AML leukemia that threatens her life. In addition to AML, Irizarry has undergone excision of recurrent basal cell skin cancer. Both AML and basal cell carcinoma are linked to ionizing radiation exposure.

Additionally, AML has known risk factors that include age — most people diagnosed with AML are over the age of 65- heavy smoking (defined as greater than a pack a day) and exposure to the International Agency for Research on Cancer Group 1 carcinogenWorld benzene. []

Genova Diagnostics Comprehensive Urine Elements Profile Screening or CUEP detects multiple chemicals in high to toxic range. They are cadmium, cesium, gallium, nickel, platinum, rubidium, tungsten, copper, manganese and vanadium.

She released the findings of her urinary toxicology screen to help her neighbors understand the types of exposures they too may face. The most remarkable thing about her screening is not her body burden of toxic chemicals like cadmium, nickel and vanadium that are listed on the State of California Proposition 65 list of cancer causing chemicals.

The single most outstanding finding on Mamma Mesha’s nutrient screen is that all of the elements necessary for a strong body and strong immune system are normal! Iron, selenium, zinc, calcium and magnesium levels are all in normal range.

“Let food be thy medicine” — Hippocrates

Mesha Irizarry is a proponent of the healing power of herbal medicine and nutrition and relies on garden grown herbs and mushrooms, Centrum Silver vitamin supplements, organic foods and Meals on Wheels delivery to fight back against ravaging inflammation, antioxidants and free radicals that damage human DNA causing cancer and a host of metabolic, cardiopulmonary and autoimmune diseases.

One of the most toxic “bad actors” detected in her screening is cadmium. Cadmium and platinum are chemicals detected in heavy smokers. Irizarry has not smoked since 2012 but cadmium has a half life of 30 years. Platinum is added to tobacco products to reduce carbon monoxide levels. Tungsten is detected in concentrations five times higher than maximum detectable limits. Tungsten is a heavy alloy used in aerospace and defense because it is resistant to corrosion and has the highest melting point and tensile strength of any element. Like manganese, nickel, copper and vanadium, tungsten is a signature element used in the steel industry. All of these elements are being detected in a similar profile in residents and workers screened by the Hunters Point Biomonitoring Program. Tungsten in toxic concentrations was detected by HP Biomonitoring in a 12 year old boy whose mother lived in the South Basin region.

Cadmium toxicity is a global health problem affecting multiple organ systems. Long term exposure to cadmium leads to cancer and organ system toxicity. Cadmium in toxic concentrations causes low back and hip pain, bone loss and fractures. Central and peripheral nervous system toxicity has been reported. Animal studies show cadmium can decrease lung capacity and cause pulmonary diseases like COPD and emphysema. A chelating agent called EDTA increases the urinary elimination of cadmium. Cadmium toxicity is treated using gastrointestinal irrigation and new chelating agents and nanoparticle antidotes.

Kickin’ Cadmium in the Ass with Good Nutrition may be the best approach! PharmD and PhD researchers from the Babol University of Medical Sciences report the beneficial use of the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E and their protective effect against cadmium induced toxicity in experimental animals. When selenium was added to the combination it further reduced the toxic effects of cadmium. Zinc and magnesium reversed cadmium induced renal toxicity.

The detection of both cadmium and copper in toxic concentrations in the urine toxicology screen offers evidence of environmental exposure. Cadmium is added to copper to make a metal alloy more resistant to softening at elevated temperatures. Cadmium copper is used in overhead trolley wire because it is extremely resistant to erosion. Trolley wire is the overhead wire that provides the current for trolleys and electric vehicles. The intersection where Irizarry and her husband Remi have lived for nine years is a major transit station for the T-Third light rail line.

The south-central region of Bayview Hunters Point is the site of numerous emission sources from private industry and transportation and many sensitive receptors including Bayview Park and K.C. Jones playground, Southeast Health Center, MLK Swimming Pool, the Bayview Hunters Point Foundation, 3rd Street Youth Services, Dr. George Davis Senior Center, Gilman Park and playground and residential housing located within feet of the western boundary of a system of three heavily contaminated federal Superfund sites undergoing deep soil excavations, heavy equipment operations, demolition and construction.

Trolley Wire containing cadmium and nickel extends along the entire 3rd street corridor emitting electrified particles into a region CalEPA documents to have one of the highest diesel emission rates in the state.
Cancer Corridor at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard- Mamma Mesha appears at the western border of the shipyards South Basin region as a white pin for leukemia and a silver pin for basal cell skin cancer.

What Keeps Mamma Mesha’s Heart Beating?


Good Nutrition…

Birthday Celebration for Mamma Mesha Irizarry hosted on Sunday, December 05, 21 by Jeremy Miller and Noemie Hakim Serfaty. Mesha and husband/caregiver Remigio Fraga and Kween enjoy a healthful snack. Photo: Jeremy Miller

And in her very own words…”Healing through Helping Others!”

Watch video of the Mamma Mesha Irizarry Living Garden dedicated by Lisa Ganser of POOR Magazine on Facebook at:



Ahimsa Porter Sumchai MD

Founder, Director, PI - HP Biomonitoring/ Founding Chair- Radiological Committee Hunters Point Shipyard RAB 2001, Former Attending MD VA Toxic Registry & SFDPH