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Frank Damiano, left, and Benny Lombardi get down at the 14th annual Friends Helping Sick Kids party last Saturday.

MATTHEW SHERWOOD/The Globe and Mail

The donors: Frank and Martina Damiano

The gift: Raising $600,000 and climbing

The cause: Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children

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The reason: To support leukemia research

When Frank and Martina Damiano's son turned four, the family received some frightening news; doctors diagnosed young Antonio with leukemia.

The family spent many anxious months at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children while Antonio underwent various treatments. Thankfully, the cancer went into remission and has not returned.

Mr. Damiano wanted to do something to express his appreciation to the hospital and its staff. Making a donation didn't seem sufficient, so he started Friends Helping Sick Kids and began organizing an annual disco-themed party to raise money.

The event is now into its 14th year and has raised close to $600,000 in total. The money goes toward leukemia research at Sick Kids.

The group is also running a "Sponsor-a-Bear" program where individual donors contribute about $30 to have a stuffed bear delivered to a child undergoing treatment at the hospital.

Antonio is now 17, an accomplished soccer player who is headed to York University on an athletic scholarship. A few years ago, his father showed his son a video he put together while Antonio was in treatment.

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"I literally taped every day with the hope that one day he would see this," Mr. Damiano recalled from his home in Toronto. "I wanted him to know what Sick Kids did for him."

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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