UI students raise funds to help friend fight against cancer



By Ellyn Newell

Why is a multiple organ transplant more than 900 miles away strongly affecting students at this university? Put simply, this is happening because the friends of Samantha Cipolla refuse to let her fight against cancer alone.

Cipolla was a student at Northern Illinois University when she was diagnosed with pancreatoblastoma, a very rare form of cancer. After six rounds of chemotherapy and months at the University of Chicago hospital fighting for a cure, she was informed in July that any further procedures would be experimental.

That is when her parents found a doctor in Miami, Fla. willing to give Cipolla one last chance. The doctor proposed that Cipolla have a five organ transplant in hopes of removing the cancer from her body.

Alex Wulfsohn, junior in AHS, realized there was a huge need to fundraise for her friend after the second time Cipolla’s insurance company denied the request to fund the $1 million procedure. Wulfsohn, with the help of others from their home town of Glenview, Ill. decided to make the fight for Cipolla’s life a community effort.

“There were some people I haven’t seen in forever, but it just goes to show that everyone wanted to help out,” Wulfsohn said.

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On Sept. 23, Wulfsohn organized a charity event with the help of the Noodles & Company on Sixth and Green streets. It donated 10 percent of its profits – almost $500 – to the Samantha Cipolla Fund. Though Noodles & Company’s benefit nights usually run from 5-9 p.m., it allowed the benefit for Cipolla to begin at 4 p.m.

“There was a point where the line was out the door for over two and a half hours,” said Wulfsohn, “People I haven’t seen in forever came out to support her.”

Estella Wilson, the general manager of Noodles & Company, explained that their restaurant tries to do three benefit nights a month, but the turnout for this event was far larger than usual. Although Wilson was not scheduled to work the shift of the benefit, she ended up having to stay and work until close because the lines were so long.

“It was really hectic, but there was such good energy,” Wilson said, “You could tell that everyone was really happy to be here.”

Cipolla’s friends aren’t stopping there in their fundraising efforts. Jenna Zera, junior in AHS, convinced her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, to donate $1,000 of the money they raised through philanthropy to the fund. There also will be a happy hour at Kam’s on Oct. 17, as well as a free concert at Canopy Club in November. Other than events for Cipolla, there will also be shirts and bracelets sold to raise money and awareness.

“Although some of us haven’t seen each other since high school, we are uniting to show our support for Sammy,” Zera said.

Beyond the community effort, Zera and eight of Cipolla’s closest friends have written to parents, news progams and celebrities, such as Oprah. Although they have not yet heard back from any of news programs or public figures, they have been getting a lot of response from parents. So far, the group has raised more than $2,000.

“I think the reason that everyone is helping out is because Sammy is an average 20-year-old girl, and people realize the same thing could have easily happened to them or one of their friends,” Wulfsohn said.

On Oct. 1, Cipolla was able to have the surgery after her insurance finally accepted it. On Cipolla’s blog, “Tough Cookie,” she expresses her gratitude for all the support she has been receiving.

“I can’t thank everyone enough from the bottom of my heart,” Cipolla writes, “Also someone I will never ever be able to thank enough is the donor family. I’m actually kind of speechless and unsure of what to say on this topic. It’s still a rough one for me to deal with but I obviously wouldn’t be here without that contribution.”

The fundraising that this campus has done and will continue to do for the Samantha Cipolla Fund is not in vain. Cipolla has maxed out her insurance, which means that she will not be covered by medical insurance for the rest of her life. The money that the students of this University are raising will go toward the post-surgery costs and any future medical costs that Cipolla will have to deal with. For more on Cipolla, and to learn how to make a contribution, visit the Web page at www.sammyscamp.com.