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One Patient’s Dream of Giving Back Supports 14 Families at Smilow

June 02, 2021

After spending time talking with other cancer patients during her regular appointments at Smilow Cancer Hospital, Nicole Donzello quickly recognized the stress that many patients and families are under during their treatment. “When diagnosed with cancer, it’s heartbreaking to hear how everything is crumbling around many patients. I heard how some were focused on monetary issues versus their health and the amount of stress it caused for them. Patients really need the freedom to focus on themselves,” Nicole explained.

Nicole was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in February of 2015 and has since had several courses of treatment and two transplants. Her prognosis and desire to help others launched the Nicole Donzello Foundation in 2019, also creating a legacy that her family could rally around. Moreover, Nicole was looking for a way to give back personally and refocus her time when not caring for her children or at her own medical appointments—the foundation gave her that purpose.

Just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the newly launched foundation hosted its first major fundraiser, a tasting event featuring the generous support of local breweries and distributors that provided wine from all over the world, as well as restaurants throughout Connecticut. The event was a resounding success, selling out in just 4 days and raising enough funds to support $23k in grants to patients diagnosed with leukemia at Smilow Cancer Hospital. “There is such a need, and we were honored to be able to help 14 families this year. We’re motivated to have a bigger event next year and provide even more support to patients at Smilow,” Nicole said.

“The Nicole Donzello Foundation grant was a much-needed financial gift made available to our adult Leukemia patients who struggled covering household expenses. The financial assistance made it possible for these patients to focus on their medical care and not worry about finding the funds to pay their mortgage, rent, or utility bills. We, and our patients, cannot thank the foundation enough for their generosity!” shared Mary Crooks, LCSW, and Mary Strauss, LCSW.

The foundation’s board gave need based monetary grants to applicants with the assistance of Smilow Cancer Hospital social workers in hematology and pediatrics. Their team effort resulted in all applications being funded and renewed efforts for next year’s application phase, already planned for March 2022.

“The smiles on the faces of the recipients spoke volumes. I know they will not forget the support [the foundation gave] them during this most vulnerable time,” said Katie Henry, LCSW, Pediatric Oncology/Transplant Social Worker.

The foundation’s board is also working with the social work team at Smilow to offer their expertise to patients who may need pro bono legal counsel, accounting assistance, and other professional help from their team.

“I wanted to give back to Smilow because they’ve done so much for me and my family,” Nicole said. “I just hope we can alleviate some of the stress for patients.”

Submitted by Renee Gaudette on June 02, 2021