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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Stomp of Approval : Guests' Feet Get a Workout at Pediatric Cancer Research Benefit

October 06, 1994|ANN CONWAY

The fun was nonstop at Sunday's Festa Della Vendemmia held at Prego Ristorante on behalf of the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation.

More than 400 guests feasted on an Italian country buffet, stomped on grapes, watched a Lucille Ball look-alike contest (remember the "I Love Lucy" episode where Lucy, flame locks tied in a kerchief, stomped grapes until her toes turned purple?) and danced the tarantella.

Nobody had smiles brighter than event chairman John Weiner, his wife, Kim, and their daughter Samantha, 3 1/2.

Three weeks ago Samantha completed her treatment for leukemia, a disease that engulfed her when she was a 15-month-old toddler.

"She is stable, doing well, finished treatment," said Kim Weiner, who also brought the couple's 9-month-old daughter, Casey, to the fest. "The doctors give her a 50% to 60% chance for a total cure, which in this business is OK.

"We're just waiting for the next two or three years to see how she does. If we make it through that cancer-free, she is cured."

John and Kim were stunned that day in 1992 when doctors at Children's Hospital of Orange County site of the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation--told them their little girl was so sick she would have to spend the night.

"There you are, holding this precious baby in your arms and suddenly they are taking her out of your arms," said Kim. "Little did we know that she would be there for the majority of the next 2 1/2 years. They didn't know if she would make it through the weekend. We were in shock."

Up until those horrible days when she became pale and lethargic, Samantha had been a happy, healthy little girl.

Then, almost overnight, she became ill and broke out with a rash (which the Weiners would later learn was due to broken blood vessels, a sign that her blood platelets were low).

"I took her in (to a pediatrician) and they gave me ear medication," Kim said. "And then I took her back--she had begun to bruise easily--and they gave her a blood test."

John and Kim were told to take their sick baby to CHOC. And thus began the ordeal that Kim calls "a horrendous two years."

The Weiners became involved with the Pediatric Cancer Foundation because they wanted so much to do something, Kim said. "Cancer makes you really feel helpless. It's out of your hands. Helping the foundation has been a way to make us feel empowered."

John Weiner has chaired the Festa event for two years now. And while he is happy to do it, he finds the job frustrating.

Many of his calls for help--to major corporations and potential donors--went unheeded. The event at Prego on Sunday raised $28,000. "And that's wonderful, " John said. "But it seems like a relatively small amount considering all of the work that was done."

In a recent issue of People magazine, Kim noticed that a single event for baby AIDS victims made a whopping $1 million.

"In one event!" Kim said. "Babies with cancer may not be the most popular disease right now, but AIDS does not kill nearly as many children as cancer does." (More children under the age of 18 die of cancer than any other disease, according to the foundation.)

Meanwhile, the Weiners will continue to help raise funds for oncologist Mitchell Cairo's research foundation at CHOC.

"We don't want other kids or parents to have to go through this," Kim said. "Our goal for the foundation is for it to not even exist."

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