|The Gainesville Sun
Article Title: Personal tragedy leads physicians to create foundation
By Danielle Hipps
Published: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 10:36 a.m.
In 2003, Gainesville physicians Michael and Eileen Lauzardo endured a rare and heart-breaking situation. Their children, 4-year-old Ryan and 1-year-old Keira, were diagnosed with different forms of leukemia within weeks of each other.
Ryan suffered from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form in children, which mostly affects those younger than 10. He endured 38 months of treatment and has now been in remission for 3 1/2 years. After five years, he will be considered cancer-free.
Keira was not as fortunate. She had acute myelogenous leukemia, a form which usually affects adults over 65. She endured about six months of treatment before the disease claimed her life at 17 months.
"We said, 'There are just too many coincidences, with us being physicians and both of our children having leukemia,'" Eileen said. Their response was to establish the Keira Grace Foundation in 2005.
The foundation, which hosts Share the Cure 2010 at the Hippodrome State Theatre on March 27, delivers cancer treatment to children in developing nations by connecting in-country medical teams with oncologists, cancer treatment facilities and support organizations from developed countries.
The event, which starts at 6:30 p.m., will feature cocktails and a dinner catered by Blue Water Bay and Chef Byron Terwillegar, whose cuisine has been featured on the Travel Channel's "Taste of America."
After dinner, guests will move to the Hippodrome's main stage for live entertainment and a performance of an original modern dance, "Metamorphosis," by pre-professional company, Sun Country Dance Theatre.
Tickets for the event are $79 per person until Friday and are available at the Hippodrome box office. After that date, tickets go for $99 per person.
The Lauzardos said they hope to raise $50,000 at the event. In the past five years, they have raised more than $200,000 and have funded treatment for about 100 cases of childhood leukemia each year.
Proceeds from the event will fund treatments for children with cancer in the Dominican Republic, a country the couple chose for its proximity to Florida and its affordable health care.
"Thankfully, in the U.S., almost any child can get treatment," she said. "But that's not the case in other countries, even where the cost of treatment and medicine is cheaper."
Emergency health insurance options are available to American children diagnosed with serious illnesses, she said. Disease rates are just as high in other countries where that luxury is not available, which is why the couple dedicated the foundation to helping children in developing nations.
Leukemia is a blood disease that affects the immune system, according to Dr. William Slayton, a specialist in pediatric oncology and hematology at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Its symptoms include anemia, low energy and susceptibility to infection. It affects about 3 in 100,000 children, he said.
Treatment for leukemia began about 40 years ago. In the United States, there is an 85 to 90 percent cure rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the type Ryan had.
In less-developed countries, such as the Dominican Republic, survival rates are much lower. Parents are less able to pay for treatment, and the chemotherapy offered is intense and requires a solid infrastructure, Slayton said. The Keira Grace Foundation funds a modified treatment that is less intense but still effective.
"Cancer is not very common in children," Slayton said. "But we've gotten pretty good at curing it."