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Leanne: A Kid Making a Positive Impact

Leanne: A Kid Making a Positive Impact
Photo: Mary DiLalla (center) presents an iPad to two members of her CHaD care team, Drs. Samuel J. Casella and Beth L. Ames, on behalf of Positive Impact for Kids. The nonprofit was the brainchild of Mary's friend Leann Joyce, who donated the iPad for CHaD kids. Photo by Mark Washburn

Fourteen-year-old Leanne Joyce has a mission. The eighth grader's goal is to make a donation to at least one children's hospital in every state by the time she graduates from high school. She is well on her way. Through her non-profit organization, Positive Impact for Kids, 18 hospitals in 15 states have already received iPads; many others will soon be delivered. "I think she is down to about five remaining states after we connect with the hospitals and make those other deliveries," says Ellen Joyce, Leanne's mother.

When Leanne planned to donate to a health care system in New Hampshire, she knew it would be the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD). Although she has never been a patient here her friend, Mary, has been for years.

A Friend in Need

While living in North Carolina—where she and Leanne became friends—Mary had been diagnosed with esthesioneuroblastoma, a big word to apply to a four-year-old, and an extremely rare form of cancer. Mary was not expected to survive. "To date," recalls Mary's mother, Ann Marks DiLalla, "they were unaware of anyone else her age being diagnosed with this form of cancer." Fortunately, after a year of intense chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Mary was cancer-free. However, it would be 10 years before they could say she was definitely cured. "The amazing and wonderful thing," Marks DiLalla says about moving to Hanover five years ago, "was our doctors at Duke Memorial Hospital knew Dr. Sara Chafee who handled pediatric oncology at CHaD. They told us we had nothing to worry about, because we would be in wonderful hands. The collaboration was incredible."

Mary, her mother says, "is an old-soul, and all along has been very strong getting through this." On December 11, 2013, Mary celebrated the 10-year milestone of finishing her treatments. After her final follow-up testing at CHaD, she was given a clean bill of health. That same afternoon, Mary presented the children of CHaD with an iPad on behalf of Leanne's non-profit, Positive Impact for Kids. Two members of Mary's care team, Drs. Samuel J. Casella and Beth L. Ames were on hand to accept the donation. "I'm delighted that teens are helping teens through difficult times," says Ames. "Mary and Leanne are role models for individuals of all ages."

Paying it Forward

Although she had a congenital heart defect, Leanne was a competitive swimmer and a nationally ranked rope jumper, who only had to go in regularly for routine testing. On one of those visits, a volunteer presented Leanne with a gift card. It was a year later, after returning from a national championship Ellen Joyce says, that Leanne was told by her cardiologist "her heart had made significant changes and effective that day she had to stop all of her athletics because they were such high-cardio sports."

Joyce remembers the morning after "Leanne's world collapsed" how her daughter woke up and said, "Mom, I need to look ahead at what I can do, and not behind at what I can't."

"She told her dad and me that she wanted to use her energy to help other kids." Leanne remembered the year before how good the gift card had made her feel; it had distracted her from her testing and helped to relieve her anxiety. She wanted to do the same for other kids. At the age of 12, Leanne conceived of, and created Positive Impact for Kids.

The non-profit is funded through grants, fundraisers, and private donations. Leanne reaches out to pediatric hospitals or wards and finds out what they are interested in receiving for the children. There have been various requests, but, Joyce says, pediatric hospitals mainly want iPads. "One iPad can affect 9,000 children a year, so it just makes sense. Leanne also gives gift cards for stores, iTunes and bookstores. A lot of them go to teenagers to brighten their day. She wants other kids to have the same type of experience she had. She hopes they'll realize that maybe it's a way for them to give back too."

Dream Big

Leann is likely to reach her goal of all 50 states well before her senior year, and is now aiming to raise $100,000 before she graduates. Currently, she's raised $22,000, and her objectives keep expanding. "Next," says Joyce, "Leanne would like to be able to financially support the start-up of iPad programs in hospitals that don't have them. I give her all the credit. What she's done has helped me to learn and grow."

With the support of her mother, her father, Bill, and siblings Sara and Kevin, Leanne's dreams also continue to grow, but her message is consistent, says Joyce: "Leanne wants everyone to know that people do care, and also, how easy it is to make a difference no matter what age you are."