Just weeks before his third birthday, Braydon Nugent was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “I had no idea what leukemia was,” says Braydon’s mother, Emily. But through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society—which focuses on finding a cure for blood cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and Hodgkin’s disease—the Nugent family was able to acquire all the information they needed for Braydon’s battle with leukemia. 

After rounds of chemotherapy during the past three years at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and support from LLS throughout the "scary journey," Emily says 6-year-old Braydon is in remission and back to his energetic self. “He loves playing baseball, and he’s a huge Cardinals fan,” she explains. “He’s a catcher, and says he’s going to be the next Yadier Molina.”

As LLS’ 2014 Boy of the Year, Braydon, along with Girl of the Year Allison, another 6-year-old with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, will be celebrated at the upcoming Man and Woman of the Year Grand Finale event on May 22 at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac. On behalf of the LLS Boy & Girl of the Year, 12 Man & Woman of the Year candidates currently are raising funds for LLS through online donations, sponsorships and various events. “The kids are the inspiration,” notes LLS executive director Debbie Kersting. “So, when I think I'm having a bad day, I always think of these children going through all these treatments, and all they want to do is go out and play and go to school. They are dealing with so much more than a little child should have to go through.” Candidates who collect the most donations will be recognized as Man & Woman of the Year at the event. And proceeds will benefit the nonprofit’s critical needs—from research and outreach to financial assistance.

The fundraising goal is $330,000 or higher, Kersting says. “The more money that is raised, the more we can help our mission.” Annually, LLS donates more than $11.6 million to research to find a cure, and $1.2 million more to help financially support 5,000 patients and their families. Research dollars are leading to more effective treatments, she adds. “Once we have these better treatments, we want to make sure patients have access to those cures, so that’s why we’re doing advocacy work in Jefferson City and Washington D.C.” For example, LLS recently was instrumental in getting a bill passed through the legislature that allows cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment the more affordable, insurance-funded option of oral pills rather than frequent painful injections.

Life-changing moves like these are why LLS is vital to families like hers, Emily notes. “They push to help families with the education and funding during this time because it so difficult.” To give back to the organization that has given so much to them, the Nugent family participates in multiple annual events, including Light the Night, to bring awareness and funds to blood cancers. “And I love that any money they raise stays in the surrounding area and goes for kids in those areas.”

Last year’s Man of the Year, Scott Savacool, a commercial real estate broker for Sansone Group, echoes that sentiment. The local businessman has donated his time and energy to raise more than $75,000 for LLS because the money goes directly to helping research and patient care in our own community. “To see firsthand the people who we’re touching the lives of is really a remarkable thing,” he notes. Savacool even was able to choose the research grant his funds will benefit. “I can follow the grant directly to see how my efforts and fundraising help.” And he urges others to do the same. “Anyone who gets involved with this organization and goes to any of their events will be so touched by it that it’s hard not to be involved.”

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