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Vinny scores again for young cancer patients
Lightning star pledges $3-million for a children cancer center.
By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published October 17, 2007
Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier invites All Children's Hospital patient Peyton Mayhew, 3, into a group photo with other patients and their family members after a news conference in Tampa to announce his $3-million commitment.
[Brian Cassella | Times]
[Brian Cassella | Times]
The cause has "great meaning" to Vinny Lecavalier.
TAMPA - For years, Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier has shown a special affection for children battling cancer at All Children's Hospital in downtown St. Petersburg.
He has visited them at the hospital, invited them to watch him play from a suite at the St. Pete Times Forum and donated money toward their treatment for every goal he scores.
As he has with his play on the ice, Lecavalier has decided to step up his commitment to treating childhood cancer. On Tuesday, he announced a $3-million pledge from his charitable foundation toward building a cancer center at All Children's.
"I love kids - and I love the Tampa Bay area," Lecavalier said in a prepared statement, comments echoed in an announcement Tuesday at the St. Pete Times Forum. "So this is a cause with great meaning to me."
It was the second time in as many days that a leading Tampa Bay-area sports figure announced a major pledge to children's causes in the region. The Glazer Family Foundation on Monday announced it will give $5-million toward a children's museum in Tampa.
Lecavalier's pledge, to be handed out over eight years, will go toward construction of the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. The state-of-art center will occupy half of a floor of the new All Children's Hospital, a $315-million construction project under way in downtown St. Petersburg.
The not-for-profit hospital is home to the largest pediatric cancer center in the southeast, and is affiliated with the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa. Officials expect to open the new hospital in 2009.
Lecavalier, 27, was joined Tuesday by several patients of All Children's and their family members, who posed with him and collected autographs.
"I'm at a loss for words to express my feelings," said Dr. Jerry Barbosa, medical director of the children's cancer center. "This means a lot to us, these kids, their families and our staffs."
Lecavalier, one of the Lightning's most recognized players, is in his ninth year with the team and last year was the National Hockey League's leading scorer. That fact has already benefited All Children's.
Since 2003, Lecavalier, in partnership with Kane's Furniture, has donated nearly $70,000 to the hospital, giving $1,000 for every goal he scores and $300 for each assist. He has visited the hospital for years, spending time with children that go beyond typical celebrity photo opportunities, workers there say.
Lecavalier had been searching for ways to increase his charitable efforts, studying more than 20 charitable causes and organizations, said Liz Willyoung, executive director of his foundation.
"Obviously, where he had been contributing all these years was where his heart was," Willyoung said. "He's a compassionate person and he takes this seriously."
His latest pledge vaults him into the company of Tampa Bay sports figures such as Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks and Mike Alstott, among the past and current members of the Buccaneers, who have made names for themselves for community good deeds as much as their playing ability.
The pledge works this way: Lecavalier, along with "legacy partners" in his foundation, including Kane's and DEX Imaging, will provide more than half of the money. Willyoung said the specific amount Lecavalier will donate is still being finalized, but it will reach "six figures" the first year.
The remainder of the money will be raised in community fundraising efforts, such as Lecavalier's annual Texas Hold 'Em Celebrity Poker Tournament at the Seminole Hard Rock & Casino.
Hospital officials say they did their own due diligence as part of the deal, given that it puts Lecavalier's name on the cancer center.
"All you have to do is meet him and talk to him," said Gary Carnes, president and chief executive officer of All Children's Health Systems, the parent company of the hospital. "Although he's young, he's a very focused, dedicated, caring, community-oriented person."
Lecavalier said his many visits to the hospital underscored what his parents taught him about giving back to his community. The visits, inspiring children facing tough and painful treatment, have inspired him as well.
"Anytime I go to the hospital, it brings a lot of emotion to me, too," he said. "We have to take time to appreciate what we have."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3387.
- About 12,400 people younger than 20 are diagnosed with cancer nationally each year.
- It is the most common disease-related death for this age group and fourth most common cause of death behind accidents, homicides and suicides.
- Since the 1970s, cancer deaths have declined dramatically in children. The overall decline for all forms of cancer was 40 percent from 1975 to 1995, and 50 percent among patients with leukemia.
Source: Children's Oncology Group, which researches childhood cancer
Charitable giving nationally by athletes
Lecavalier's pledge to All Children's Hospital ranks up there among charitable donations by athletes nationally. Some others who have gotten headlines for charitable gifts.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson: The actor and former University of Miami Hurricane football player and his wife pledged $1-million this month to his alma mater, on top of $2-million he has previously given the school.
Todd Heap: Also this month, the tight end with pro football's Baltimore Ravens pledged $1-million to the Franklin Square Hospital Center for pediatric care in his team's city.
The Barbers: Last year, Buccaneer Ronde Barber and his twin, Tiki Barber, since retired from the New York Giants, gave $1-million to the University of Virginia, their alma mater.
Dikembe Mutombo: In what may be the gold standard, the Houston Rockets basketball center pledged $15-million to build a hospital in his native country, Congo.
Sources: Times wires, The Baltimore Sun, Gale Group Inc.