Senior’s project to help cancer victim

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A formal dance to raise money for Isabella Huffman — a local child diagnosed with a rare form of Burkitts leukemia — will be held Friday at the Eau Gallie Civic Center, as part of Alicia Ortiz’ Senior Project.

“Originally, [Isabella’s wish] was actually to go see the Cake Boss in New York, and I had been planning to do everything,” Ortiz said. “I had been raising money for it. Her immune system just wasn’t going to be good.”

Seven-year-old Isabella, known to her family and friends as Bella, was diagnosed earlier this year with Burkitts leukemia, a rare cancer affecting only 300 people each year. She has had multiple blood transfusions, spinal taps and chemotherapy. Although the New York trip didn’t work out for health reasons, Bella’s new wish is to go to Walt Disney World with her family and stay in a deluxe Disney resort for four days and three nights.

“The final fundraiser before her wish … is going to be a dance event, where everyone can just kind of have a good time and support Bella’s cause, because all proceeds will be going towards her wish,” Ortiz said. “I am also having food catered in from Chick-Fil-A, Moes, Olive Garden, etc., and am going to have a whole lot of raffle gift cards … I have also set up a ‘go fund me’ account, which is http://www.gofundme.com/bellastrongxxx

It’s hard to tell how much Ortiz will raise with this fund-raiser.

“In terms of profit, it’s kind of hard to tell … just because I can’t sell tickets at school,” Ortiz said. “It’s just been people telling me ‘I’m definitely going’, ‘I’m going to try making it’ and stuff just because the district rules don’t allow tickets to be sold on campus. So that’s kind of been another obstacle. But I have created a FaceBook page for it and had a lot of good responses from social media of people wanting to come … Even if I sold 300 tickets, that would be a profit of $3,000. So I really do think I will have that many people because the atmosphere is going to be a fun night… There will be a DJ there playing fun music.”

“It’s not only about Bella’s wish,” Ortiz said, “but also about helping the family as much as I can. I actually have everything set. I really don’t need the dance fund-raiser, because I have already paid the resort and I got a discount. I already have all the Disney passes. I have almost $1,000 for food and just daily stuff. But I’m doing the dance fundraiser for medical expenses and gas cards for driving to Orlando constantly. It’s a lot of money for them, so it helps out in that sense.”

Ortiz has always been interested in the Make a Wish Foundation, which helps grant wishes to seriously ill children.

“I actually started researching if I could do this Senior Project back in my freshman year, and I had been told I had to be 18 just to work in the offices and had to be 21 to help with any event for the children. So it was kind of out of my mind. Oh, I would have to pick another project. And then I had an idea back in junior year, and started contacting a whole bunch of places — Wuesthoff and Holmes Regional Medical Center, cancer organizations, churches — and was just denied every single time. [Anatomy teacher Sherie] Jenkins actually gave me the idea to contact the PTA and find Bella through there.”

When Ortiz went through the PTA, her inquiry looking for a needy child reached out to 1,400 subscribers.

“I actually got probably 40 emails responding to my request, just because there were so many kids on standby in the local area. I actually just randomly picked someone, just because I wanted to keep it fair, and Bella was the one I chose,” she said.

With Bella’s busy medical schedule, getting an interview would pose to be a hardship on the family. But James Finch, the graphic design teacher at West Shore, has been helping Ortiz every step of the way.

“I will give her some suggestions here and there, but she has been working really hard on it,” Finch said. “Most of the time, she is working over lunch. She’s in here every day. … This is going to help her for the rest of her life. And that girl has been tenacious. She’s really been sticking to it. She’s been making phone calls every day. She tries to find the front door, back door, side door; she tries to get there. This is not an easy thing to do. All the things she’s done, it’s really impacting Bella. It’s a great project.”