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Leukemia fundraiser assists cafe owner’s son

A ray of hope for the leukemia awareness cause shined through welcoming windows of Kaffecino Coffee Shop Thursday in the heart of Loyola’s Lake Shore campus in the form of a special fundraiser held as part of the Nikit Patel Benefit Project.

Nikit Patel, the 22-year-old son of Kaffecino coffee shop owner Pravin Patel, was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) 17 months ago. Without insurance, the money to bolster Nikit’s chances of survival and cover the rising health costs must come from the pockets of Pravin and his wife Vidya, who both immigrated from Gujarat, India in 1991.

Leukemia is a life-changing, cancerous disease that originates in either the bone marrow or lymphatic tissue and currently affects 208,080 people in the United States. Despite the vast number of those either living with or in remission from leukemia, the relative five-year survival rate for patients has more than tripled in the last 46 years.

In an effort to help the Patel family, Loyola junior Steve Hill and Chicago real-estate developer Tom Pierce organized an all-day event in which Pravin provided free pastries, water and handed out AML information pamphlets to customers and those willing to donate to Nikit’s cause. Sigma Alpha Epsilon co-sponsored the event. The fraternity assisted Hill and Pierce by spreading the word around campus about the fundraiser and helping set-up in the morning.

“The whole idea is to provide support for the family and maybe take a little pressure off and allow them to buy some medication for a month,” Hill said. “This definitely raises awareness.”

There is no cure for AML, and patients need treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis. Nikit is affected with the M4 Myelomonocytic subtype of AML. Treatment is expensive, whether in the form of intensive chemotherapy or drug prescriptions. Single treatments can cost up to $40,000.

Considering that Nikit has undergone two bone marrow transplants and is being treated with 30 days of chemotherapy for the next six months at St. Louis University Hospital, Thursday’s donations and fundraising efforts offered much-needed support.

“It is important, especially for an immigrant family, to show that people care,” Pierce said. “That’s the most important thing, and of course, [the Patels] can use the monetary aspect to pay for the treatments.”

Despite offering free refreshments and food throughout the day, the Patels did not have to spend a dime to set up the fundraiser. Thursday’s donations amounted to $1,700, in addition to $800 from separate donations. The total proceeds obtained through the benefit project are directly transferred into a TCF National Bank Trust Fund to help pay for Nikit’s medical costs.

“We felt like it was the right thing to do, but we did not really know what to do,” Hill said. “The fundraiser and the trust is the only way we could do it.”

Hill became a regular customer at Kaffecino over the summer while fulfilling his prerequisite requirements for Loyola’s medical school and immediately got to know Pravin. When Nikit arose in conversation one day, Hill went beyond a casual inquiry and opened his heart to the Patel family and their battle with AML, according to Pravin.

AML is the most common type of Leukemia, and the average age of those with the disease is 65. It is unusual for young people in Nikit’s position to be diagnosed, as less than 10 percent of people with AML are children. While his peers are hitting the books and advancing their career propsects, Nikit, who attended Southern Illinois University before his diagnosis, must remain positive and sustain his will despite being forced to undergo regular chemotherapy treatments.

“You see a young guy struck down in the prime of his life, and it makes people aware that these diseases are out there,” Pierce said. Pierce frequently gets his coffee from Pravin when he has business contracts in the area and has developed a relationship with the owner since the shop opened at the end of 2003.

Hill is currently lobbying Alderman Joe Moore of the 49th Ward to get a permit to put a box out for donations around various Rogers Park shops and venues. Currently, in addition to Kaffecino, donation boxes are at Carmen’s Chicago Pizza on Sheridan Road and the Subway on Broadway and Berwyn Avenue, with the help of Pete’s brother Priyank. The campaign does not stop with last week’s fundraiser, Hill said.

“If we can buy one of his prescriptions per month, we can make a difference, but there is still a lot of work to be done on the disease itself,” Hill said. “We want to lead people to do more work with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.”

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education and patient services. As a non-profit organization, the society relies on individual generosity to advance its cause.

The kindness displayed Thursday helped achieve the society’s goals on a local level and embodied Loyola’s university mission, according to Hill.

“We’ve gotten a great response, but unfortunately, students might only have a couple of bucks,” Hill said. “Still, this is a Jesuit institution and most of the people that go here have a great heart. The people that want to help will help and it reflects greatly upon the university.”

One way to directly support Leukemia research and treatment is through blood cell or bone marrow donations. Hill recently made a double red blood cell donation at Life Source, the Chicago area’s largest blood center. Sacrificing time and donating blood cells recognizes the needs of AML patients and families like the Patels as the quest to improve medical treatment expands.

For Nikit, the fundraiser is especially meaningful, Pravin said, as he is extremely grateful for the support shown on campus.

Pravin appreciated the contributions of Loyola students along with Rogers Park community members and the attempts to understand the nature of the disease that has affected his family.

“It helps my son with the medicine and the treatment,” Patel said. “Leukemia is a very bad kind of cancer from what I have experienced and read. This fundraiser definitely lets people know more about the cancer.”

If you would like to get involved in the Nikit Patel Benefit Foundation contact Steve Hill at shill6@luc.edu or call (312) 451-5350. For more information on The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society visit www.lls.org or call (800) 955-4572.

For more information on Life Source call (877) 543-3768.

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