University of Massachusetts at Lowell student-athletes have long had a heart for giving back. But when the daughter of two former River Hawks contracted a rare form of cancer, Massachusetts-Lowell student-athletes shifted into high gear to make one little girl wish come true.
Joe and Melissa Delisle were both student-athletes at Massachusetts-Lowell from 1994 to 1998. Joe starred as a linebacker while Melissa was a standout two-sport athlete in soccer and softball. The couple married in 2002 and by 2005 their family had expanded to include daughters Alana and Ella.
Last August, then 2-year-old Alana began complaining of leg pain and suffered from a high fever.
Tests revealed Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that generally affects older children and adults. In fact, only about five cases a year are reported in children of Alana age. Doctors launched a treatment plan for Alana that included chemotherapy and surgery to remove her tibia, the cancer site, and replace it with a cadaver bone.
Word of Alana illness reached the Massachusetts-Lowell campus through River Hawk head field hockey coach Shannon Hlebichuk. She and Melissa remained friends after rooming together in college.
Discussions began immediately about the possibility of assisting the Delisles through the athletics department ongoing fund-raising effort for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
e knew she was sick, we wanted to do something and we were already doing something for Make-A-Wish,said Joan Lehoullier, Massachusetts-Lowell senior associate athletics director and Life Skills coordinator.
The River Hawks had been involved with the Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee drive to raise money for Make-A-Wish since the 2004-05 academic year. Though they wanted to solely sponsor a wish, they were short of the $7,000 necessary to do so.
e kept it in the back of our minds and thought it would be nice one day to sponsor our own wish for a local child. When this happened in the fall, it gave us the motivation to make this worksaid Lehoullier.
River Hawk student-athletes began raising money through their normal series of annual fund-raising events, including KidsNight Out, 50/50 raffles and a teddy bear toss at an ice hockey game.
Meanwhile, the Delisles applied for and were granted a wish for Alana, who had chosen a trip to Disney World. At that point, Lehoullier said, student-athletes added two more fund-raisers to reach their goal. Proceeds from hosting the conference track meet and funds from the sale of Massachusetts-Lowell athletics apparel and other items put the River Hawks over the top.
Joe Delisle said the couple suspected that a fund-raising effort was underway for Alana, but they were still surprised when Mickey Mouse came parading through the door at the May 8 Awards Night banquet to present the trip. The $7,500 contribution was the largest Massachusetts-Lowell had ever raised.
e were so overwhelmed on the night of the banquet it left both of us speechless,Joe said. t means so much because this is where we went to school and played sports.br> Lehoullier said now that the standard has been set, the athletics department hopes to meet and then exceed it.
he personal satisfaction that our student-athletes especially those who worked with the fund-raisers got from that will propel them to continue,said Lehoullier t been beneficial for our student-athletes to have something on which to focus, set goals and find satisfaction in achieving in something other than athletics./span>
In the months since the awards banquet, now 4-year-old Alana has finished her chemotherapy, and her tibia bone has healed from the surgery. Best of all, a cancer-free Alana accompanied her parents and sister to Disney World last month.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation was established in 1980 and grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. The NCAA Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has raised almost $500,000 since it began supporting the charity in 2003-04.