Hero Central: 10-year-old starts foundation to fight cancer

4:13 PM, Jul 16, 2010   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida --  Osteogenesis Imperfecta is a rare bone disease and can turn a child's world into an obstacle course where a bump into a wall or a trip on the carpet can lead to a broken leg, a broken arm, or worse!

For a little girl from Lutz, broken bones have become part of life. Ten-year-old Leigh Marie Dittman was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, a condition that weakens her bones and stunts her growth.

"She has been through a lot. She has had a lot of fractures. She has had a lot of surgery to straighten her bones," said Dennis Grogan, M. D., the Physician's Chief of Staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa.

Leigh Marie knows the name of just about every bone in her body.

"I think I've broken my tibia maybe three or four times and that's including both of them," she said.

Shriners Hospital, which is located near the University of South Florida campus, treats her and thousands of other kids from around the southeast United States.

Leigh Marie has been receiving treatment from Shriners since she was three weeks old and when she turned three years old, she came up with the idea to have a fundraiser to help the hospital and other kids.

"For the past seven years, I've been doing a fundraiser. It's called the Leigh Dittman Foundation, where every year I do a fundraiser to help the hospital," she said.

The fundraiser, along with her foundation, has risen over $200,000 for the hospital over the past seven years.

"We do silent auctions, live auctions and raffle prizes, where we do baskets and auction stuff off," Leigh Marie said.

Her parents have played a huge role in the success of the foundation and are proud of their little girl.

"I'm very proud of her. I think it's great that she's taken her bone condition and turned it into a positive spin by helping the hospital and helping other children," said Ellen Dittman, Leigh's mother.

Leigh Marie is a bubbling ten-year-old with tons of energy and her outgoing nature has endeared her to local businesses and professional athletes. She has become somewhat of an ambassador for Shriners and a hero in the community.

"Leigh is a special hero to us because of what she's willing to do to bring about awareness. She goes out there with a very bright personality. She's very passionate about her cause," said Shriners spokeswoman Beth Demas.

Leigh Marie wants to one day become a nurse and work at Shriners.

"Shriners has helped me and my family for all these years and it's just an incredible feeling to know that they're here for me. It feels like a second family and this hospital is a second home."

Leigh Marie was recently named the winner of the Kohl's Department Store "Kids Who Care" Scholarship, which awards $1,000 to each recipient.

The annual Leigh Dittman Foundation fundraiser will take place  September 11th at 6 p.m. at the India Cultural Center in Tampa.

You can visit the Leigh Dittman Foundation 7th Annual Charity Party website at leighdittman.com.

If you would like to nominate someone to be a hero, please contact me at mbeal@wtsp.com.

Melvin Beal, 10 Connects

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