A Hero Among Us
Lionel (far left) with a few members of Lionel's Team

There's a reason Lionel Li was awarded the Friends of Karen Hero Award at our Tribeca Rooftop Gala on September 22 in NYC. What child, struggling with cancer himself, gives up a trip to Disneyland in Paris to help other children and their families? Only a hero would do that. And that's just what Lionel did.

Lionel was just 15 years old when he was diagnosed with lymphoma and began a year long journey including chemotherapy and transplant. But that was only the physical toll; there was also the emotional toll his illness took on his family. And people often forget about the financial burden families like his have to face. Parents may need to take unpaid time from their jobs to care for their child, or insurance only pays so much and the amount they don’t pay can be staggering. Even just transportation to and from the hospital or the cost to park your car at a major hospital can be astronomical. In fact, the cost to treat a child with cancer can cost upwards of $500,000!
While Lionel’s family was luckier than many in that they had good health insurance, it was still a huge financial and emotional burden on the family. Lionel became a Friends of Karen child when the social worker at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, where he was being treated, told his family about the organization and the ways we could help.
As most of our children and their families do, Lionel and his family also applied to Make-A-Wish. He wanted to do something for his entire family who had gone through this difficult journey with him and chose a trip to Disneyland, Paris as his wish. Sounded like a fabulous trip! But, his cancer soon came back and the trip had to be postponed.
During his second treatment, his attitude changed. “It was the second time I was diagnosed – when the lymphoma came back – that I changed my mind. I spent a lot of time in treatment. At one point I was in a hospital room for two months so I had a lot of time to reflect on what really mattered. When they said it was gone, that I was cancer free, I realized I may regret using this once-in-a-lifetime chance on going to Disney World. Instead, I thought of it as an opportunity to make a difference.”
And make a difference he did! Instead of going to Disney, Lionel decided that he wanted his wish to be doing a fundraiser to help Friends of Karen support more kids like him and their families. Make-A-Wish granted a $10,000 donation to Friends of Karen as Lionel’s wish and helped him build awareness and fundraise for his cause. Make-A-Wish then helped him form Lionel’s Team to walk with Friends of Karen in the Long Island Marathon’s 5K this past spring. Lionel even inspired others by his good deed. When Lionel reached out to his elementary school on Long Island about the walk, they held their own fundraiser to benefit Friends of Karen!
“Friends of Karen – the entire organization – restores my faith in people,” Lionel said. “…They provide a service for families when they need it most. Figuring out how to cover the finances should definitely be the last thing a parent should have to think about. I don’t like that a parent has to worry about how they are going to pay to keep their child alive.” Now, how’s that for being a hero?