Old enough to be hero
A 12-year-old from Palm Harbor wins the Viewers Choice award from CNN.
By THERESA BLACKWELL, Times Staff Writer
Published December 7, 2007
It started with a simple goal: sign up 2,007 bone marrow donors in 2007. By Thursday, he had more than doubled that. Along the way, he toured the country and grabbed headlines worldwide. And the public continues to respond to what one boy, even while being treated for leukemia, can do. On Thursday night, Pat Pedraja of Palm Harbor, 12, won the Viewers Choice Award in the CNN Heroes contest.
The award recognizes ordinary people who do extraordinary things. One of 7,000 entered in the contest internationally, Pat was first voted the people's favorite in the Young Wonders category.
Visitors to the CNN Web site chose between Pat and five adults who each won the popular vote for their category. In the end, the viewers chose Pat as their overall winner.
Pat picked up the award Thursday during a CNN telecast from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The two-hour show featured performers Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow and Mary J. Blige, among others.
The road to the award started in a hospital bed, where Pat first resolved to help others who desperately needed bone marrow transplants.
He started a crusade that took him to 31 cities, from Miami to New York to Los Angeles. He raised more than $100,000 to pay for potential donor tissue tests and signed up more than 5,600 bone marrow donors. Doctors have already found marrow donor matches among those he signed up.
With an entrepreneurial spirit, unflagging optimism and an advertising executive's skill with the media and the public, he plans to continue working for those who need marrow transplants, particularly minorities who face tougher odds in finding a match.
His mother, Claudine Andrews, has supported him throughout his mission.
"I am extremely proud of him," Andrews said Thursday, reached by phone just before she left for the red carpet and preshow reception.
"He has done so much to get this far. It's going to do wonders for what we've been working on all this time: promoting awareness," she said.
The family has known about the award for a few days. It has been hard to keep it a secret, and it will be so exciting to see Pat finally get the award, Andrews said.
The award includes a $25,000 check that can be spent however the winner chooses.
Pat and his mother decided together that part of the check will go toward continuing to raise awareness of the need for bone marrow donors. The rest will help provide for Pat's future.
"I had a whole lot of cool plans for some of the money," Andrews said she overheard Pat say. "But Mom says to save it to pay for college."
In his acceptance speech, Pat planned to thank the other heroes featured online with him. "He says they are all amazing people doing amazing things and he was honored to be among them," Andrews said.
Then he wanted to talk about what's closest to his heart: the need for bone marrow donors.
"It shows," he said, "that you are never too young to change the world."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 445-4170.
By the numbers
7,000 Number of people who entered CNN's Heroes contest
5 Number of finalists Pat Pedraja beat out to win the Viewers Choice Award
2,007 Number of bone marrow donors Pat set out to sign up in 2007
5,600 Number of donors he signed up
$100,000+ Amount Pat raised to pay for potential donor tissue tests
$25,000 Amount Pat won from CNN, part of which he will put toward raising awareness about the need for bone marrow donors
Also a finalist
Mark Maksimowicz of St. Petersburg was also a finalist in CNN's Heroes contest. He was chosen by a panel of journalists and editors for his work with the Green Armada, a nonprofit group that works with local municipalities in attempts to control the trash that makes it into waterways.
Nick Johnson, Times staff