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Meet Marta Blanco of Sofia’s Hope in South Miami

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marta Blanco.

Marta, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started Sofia’s Hope in January 2013 almost a year after my daughter, Sofia, died from heart failure caused by the same life-saving chemotherapy that gave her over eight more years of life. At the age of four, Sofia was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) and her treatment protocol included anthracyclines, a class of drugs known to cause cardiac issues. But she was dying from the NHL which had infiltrated her lungs and we had to give the chemo if she was to have any chance at all. We received so much support from our family, friends and the community during her year-long treatment that throughout her life, I volunteered at Miami Children’s Hospital (now Nicklaus Children’s Hospital) and supported the newly diagnosed teens at Christmas with gift cards, etc. After she died, I decided to make it more official and start the foundation.

Has it been a smooth road?
No, it has not been a smooth road but the rewards have been worth the obstacles. On a personal and emotional level, it’s not easy reliving Sofia’s illness and death and being reminded of what she is missing and how she should be here with us. All events are always bittersweet. Happy for their success yet sad too. On another level, I find asking people for money to be the hardest part. I know I’m not asking for myself but I hate asking. Feel like people want to run when they see me as I’ll have some SH event for which I need support. But started working with a non-profit consultant in the last two years and she has been extremely helpful in getting me over the hump. Still, have a long way to go but every year we grow and as long as we are headed in the right direction SH will continue with me at the head.

We’d love to hear more about your foundation.
Sofia’s Hope is a non-profit foundation fighting childhood cancer with HOPE! Our three-fold mission is to: 1) Raise Pediatric Cancer awareness and the fact that children are dying every day waiting for promising new treatments; 2) Fund pediatric cancer research and advances in treatment, especially as it relates to their long-term effects (including prevention, detection, and treatment); and 3) offer programs that enhance the quality of life of children with cancer.

We go to middle and high schools to talk to kids about childhood cancer, bringing a pediatric oncologist and a teen survivor. Not only are they the donors of the future with the incidence of childhood cancer on the rise, but many also have or have had friends or family members diagnosed with childhood cancer.

Our research grant is to support Dr. Steven Lipshultz, MD and his work in pediatric cardio-oncology. While his research has lead to the availability of a cardio-protective medication called dexrazoxane, its use will only become mandatory in new protocols beginning in 2018. In the meantime, children diagnosed with cancer will continue to receive anthracyclines as they have been for more than four decades. And they will continue to save lives but for many children, it will only be temporary. As such, THE NEED FOR RESEARCH IN THIS AREA IS ESSENTIAL!! Specifically, researchers need help in:

Understanding how dexrazoxane works and how its use can be extended to all protocols;
Determining the proper dosage of dexrazoxane in protocols with high doses of anthracyclines;
Developing new ways to diagnose potential cardiac issues as early as possible;
Improving and developing new therapies to treat their heart failure when it occurs; and
Further understanding of why some children’s hearts are negatively affected while others not (genetic research).

Last but definitely not the least are our patient and family programs which are designed to provide patients and their families time to forget if only for a little bit, the journey on which they are traveling. We have our Claymation Station art program where our partners from ClayWorld visit on a monthly or bi-monthly basis the hematology/oncology units and clinics of Nickalus, Baptist/MCI and UM/Holtz Children’s Hospitals. We also distribute Newly Diagnosed Family kits, which include items I found useful during Sofia’s year of treatment. We also do bi-annual filed trips to ZooMiami and bi-annual Horse Camps. We also distribute ZooMiami Adopt-an-Animal Crates which include a gift certificate for a free family annual membership.

And in the next month, we will be launching our annual Scholarship Program which will provide support to two childhood cancer survivors and two siblings of a childhood cancer survivor/patient to attend a college of their choice.

Throughout the year, through our contacts at the hospitals and clinics, we also provide assistance to patients and their families from the end of treatment celebrations to hotel stays for wish trips and car seats for growing patients. Our job is never done and we are proud that we can help in any way we can.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Passion and a strong belief in the cause with the knowledge that what we do regardless of how big or small is having a positive impact on patients and their families.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageMIA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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