Penn-Trafford toy drive honors student, aids cancer patients at Children’s Hospital
Like other 5-year-old girls, Lilli Durante loves dresses and dressing up like Disney princesses.
What makes her love of pretending to be a Disney princess special is when and where she wears those dresses. The Manor girl plays dress-up when she goes to UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh for chemotherapy treatments to attack a tumor on her optic nerve, said her mother, Courtney Durante.
”It’s hard to say what inspired her to wear dresses to her appointments, but it makes her so happy and makes it easier,” Durante said.
Lilli, the daughter of Courtney and Robert Durante, has undergone 27 weekly treatments since February, with only a few breaks. She is expected to continue the treatments through February, Durante said. She’ll have close to 50 by the time her chemotherapy for optic pathway glioma is finished.
She undergoes the treatments “with a smile on her face. It really is amazing,” Durante said.
Friday marked another day with Lilli wearing another princess dress to the hospital in Lawrenceville. This time, however, was a little different.
In honor of Lilli, a kindergartner at Sunrise Estates Elementary School in Penn Township, school officials presented boxes filled with donated toys, dolls, books, crafts, crayons and coloring books — 1,530 items in all — to Children’s Hospital hematology and oncology departments. The items, plus $2,300 in donations, were collected during a special toy drive for the young patients, said Karin Coiner, Sunrise Estates principal.
“It was great,” said Coiner, who was joined by other staff members and Lilli’s 7-year-old brother, Mason, also a pupil at Sunrise Estates.
The toys that are in the treasure chest in the hematology and oncology clinic bring smiles to children on what could be a difficult day, Durante said.
“Our family is overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from the Penn-Trafford community, family and friends to help make this toy drive a success and throughout Lilli’s journey. It makes a difficult process more bearable,” Durante said. “These donations will make many kids happy and give them something to look forward to during trips to the clinic.”
The idea for the toy drive came about when Lauren Traill, Sunrise Elementary’s school counselor, asked Lilli’s parents what the school could do for the family.
The Durantes said they did not need anything but they wanted to do something for other children, Coiner said. Filling the treasure chest with new toys was appropriate because Lilli gets a toy after her treatments.
“Lilli was so excited. She was full of energy and so happy to give back,” Courtney Durante said. “She had a great time filling the treasure chest. She said her favorite part of the day was ‘getting the toys to make people happy,!’ ”
Lilli’s life changed in December, when doctors diagnosed her with optic pathway glioma. She woke up one morning and her left eye was severely crossed, Durante said. After many doctors appointments and an MRI, she was diagnosed a few days later, Durante said.
“We had to start chemotherapy to save her vision,” Durante said.
Dr. James Felker said Lilli has a low-grade form of cancer, but the main concern is the optic nerve that is critical to her vision.
The chemotherapy attacks the tumor but has little or no effect on the optic nerve, said Felker, a neuro-oncologist.
“The main point is to preserve her vision,” he said.
Lilli is doing well with the treatments and has experienced few side effects, Felker said.
Seeing her dressed as a princess is nice, Felker said.
“It’s fun for everybody,” he said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .