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Sun Devil Family Charities steps up to help ASU families

Scott Holland
November 19, 2012

One day in June 2009, a routine doctor’s visit for an earache brought a shocking diagnosis for three-year-old Taylor Souza: acute myelogenous leukemia. Her mother had noticed bruises on her legs and stomach, but she never dreamed her vibrant daughter, a twin, would soon be fighting for her life.

Taylor’s treatment required being at the hospital for up to 50 days at a time, leaving her mother Kristen unable to work. Though the Souzas had health insurance, the loss of a salary was devastating.

As graduates of ASU, Kristen and her husband Sean were able to apply for financial assistance from Sun Devil Family Charities, a four-year-old organization that has already helped more than 50 families. It was formed to help ASU-related families who are experiencing financial hardship because of a medical condition.

The Souzas’ application was approved, and as Taylor spent eight months in the hospital, Sun Devil Family Charities (SDFC) was able to bring them some relief from financial burdens.

“Knowing we had their support allowed us to put all of our energy into Taylor’s recovery, not worrying about the medical bills,” said Kristen.

This year they celebrated two years of Taylor being completely free of leukemia and out of treatment.

Scott Holland, an ASU alum and current president of SDFC, said he was especially affected by Taylor’s diagnosis, having a three-year-old daughter himself at the time.

“I couldn’t help but personalize it, with my daughter in mind,” said Holland. “Meeting with Taylor’s father after she went into remission was a very emotional event, as I felt especially connected to the miracle of her recovery.

“We all get so wrapped up in our daily jobs, and our career, that we tend to forget what other people go through, and how truly fortunate we are. We all should be giving back. All the friends I made at ASU, the Sun Devil family, are a huge part of my life, and I’m glad to be a part of this.”

The nonprofit public charity grew out of the SAVEJOE Foundation started by ASU offensive guard Joe Cajic, who had leukemia and wanted to increase the number of donors in the bone marrow registry. Cajic’s life was eventually saved by a bone marrow transplant, and the group continued to help others in similar situations.

When another ASU alum became ill and needed a double lung transplant, Cajic and foundation volunteers decided to branch out to raise funds for all those connected to ASU who are experiencing a medical hardship. Sun Devil Family Charities, formed as a 501c3 in 2009, now provides temporary assistance to students, alumni, faculty and staff, and their family members.

A committee of health care professionals screens applicants, with SDFC most often helping fill the gap between insurance and a family’s ability to pay. This year they have provided more than $40,000 to fund 16 families. Their funds come from selling food and beverages at tailgates before home games, shared fundraisers and an annual golf tournament.

Ebony Kelly, an ASU alum with a successful career at American Express, was one of the first recipients when she became gravely ill with polymyositis, a chronic inflammatory disease. SDFC volunteers swung into action with a billiards tournament and a car wash to help pay her costs for a double lung transplant. They helped drive her to appointments and fill out the mountain of paperwork.

ASU graduates Christine Topping and Sarah Hess, both young mothers who were diagnosed with breast cancer, have received support from the foundation in the past two years. Recipients this year include a 36-year-old employee with a brain tumor, an alum’s sister with breast cancer, and a graduate’s 8-year-old daughter who has cerebral palsy. 

The Foundation welcomes donations of time, money, in-kind services or items for auction or raffle at fundraising events. Individuals with an ASU connection who have financial need because of medical costs are encouraged to apply for aid.

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