Cellular therapy: $10,000 donation for research

Photo of Daniela De Santis, Julie Desharnais, Executive director, HMR Foundation, and Sonia Sardelli

Daniela De Santis, Julie Desharnais, Executive director, HMR Foundation, and Sonia Sardelli

Co-founder of The Vita Children’s Foundation, Daniela De Santis  explains why she chose to support cell therapy and the fight against pediatric cancers.

What is the mission of The Vita Children’s Foundation?

Daniela De Santis: The Vita Children’s Foundation is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization dedicated to helping children and adolescents living with and battling cancer. Its mission is to raise funds in support of pediatric oncology research and care.

How did The Vita Children’s Foundation come about?

Daniela: The Vita Children’s Foundation was officially created in October 2002, one year after my then two-year old son Gianluca was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Having to witness what children with cancer had to endure for a chance at life and inspired by their courage and bravery, my husband and I decided that we needed to do our part to help them in their fight against this terrible disease.

At the time, the Director of the Hematology-Oncology Department at the Montreal Children’s Hospital had mentioned to us that he was trying to raise $1 million to renovate the oncology floor of the hospital. My son was doing better and was no longer being hospitalized for long periods of time. I had stopped working to take care of him, so I had some time on my hands and wondered what I could do to help the hospital. It was at this point that I created The Vita Children’s Foundation and proposed to organize a gala to raise funds for the renovation project.

What form did the event take?

Daniela De Santis: In March 2003, we organized our first benefit gala which brought together 700 people and raised over $40,000.

I loved the experience. My son was still being followed at the Children’s for his treatments and organizing this event made me feel useful and busy. We organized other events as well, including soccer tournaments with the Saint-Léonard Soccer Association. In the end, we donated $100,000 to the Children’s and more specifically to the renovation of the oncology ward. A room was even named after our Foundation. I then went back to work and took a break from fundraising.

What prompted you to start organizing events again?

Daniela: My son, who is now 21 years old, encouraged me to take up the torch, but alone it was not possible. Fortunately, my good friend Sonia Sardelli offered to help me. So, in 2019, we got back into it and organized a soirée under the theme of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. We worked very, very hard, starting from scratch.

People do not necessarily know but conceiving and organizing an event takes a lot of time (accounting, organization, creation, communication, etc.). We sold 400 tickets. We got sponsorships, but also donations. The event was originally scheduled to take place on Saturday, March 14, 2020, but because of the pandemic we were obliged to postpone it. We thought we could reschedule it for March of this year, but it was not possible and since we had already issued tax receipts for 2020, we decided to make a donation to the HMR Foundation right away.

Why did you choose to give to the HMR Foundation?

Sonia Sardelli: We live in Saint-Léonard and wanted to raise funds for a research centre in the east-end, close to our neighbourhood, to our community; it is why we chose the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont, anchored in the east-end, and its foundation. We also sought to fund pediatric cancer research projects, since it is the primary mission of the Foundation.

We had heard about the Centre of Excellence in Cellular Therapy and Dr. Denis-Claude Roy’s work. We visited the Centre and learned about Dr. Josée Hébert, the founding director of the Québec Leukemia Cell Bank, and her work on pediatric and young adult acute leukemia. We were quite impressed and announced to our donors that their donations would go towards these two research projects.

In October 2001, our two-year-old son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of pediatric cancer. Today, 18 years later, thanks to advances in leukemia research and treatment, Gianluca is a happy and healthy young man enjoying life to the fullest.Daniela De Santis and Danny Adornato

> Visit the Vita Children’s Foundation website.

Logo of the Vita Children's Foundation

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