New Partnership Will Increase Pediatric Cancer Research at Sylvester

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To honor the legacy of his son, Sebastian, Oscar Ortiz founded an organization dedicated to the pursuit of a cure for childhood cancer. Since its inception in 2017, the organization — SebastianStrong — has gained momentum and recently established a significant partnership with the Dolphins Challenge Cancer (DCC), the signature initiative of the Miami Dolphins Foundation, to support Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. The goal of the partnership is to double every dollar raised, with the aim of reaching a total research investment of $1 million over the next four years.

Sebastian Strong
Oscar Ortiz (Sebastian’s Dad) speaking at the DCC event in 2021.

“Pediatric cancer research is dramatically underfunded,” said Ortiz, executive director of SebastianStrong. “There was only one treatment protocol available for our son. It was over 40 years old, highly toxic, and ultimately unsuccessful because we lost him 14 months into treatment.”

After being diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma at the age of 15, Sebastian Ortiz began an aggressive treatment protocol to fight his cancer. He passed away after enduring months of chemotherapy, radiation, and complex surgeries.

“I know they did everything they could to keep him alive, but it wasn’t possible with the available treatments,” Ortiz said. “Before my son’s diagnosis, between all the television commercials and marketing campaigns for childhood cancer, I had a sense that the problem was well on its way to being solved. Unfortunately, treatment options for most types of childhood cancers haven’t advanced in decades.”

Finding New Treatments
Sebastian Strong
Sebastian Ortiz, with his mother, Rose. at the DCC event in 2016.

Finding more targeted, less toxic treatments, and a cure for childhood cancer, is the goal of the new four-year partnership between SebastianStrong and the DCC, which has become the largest yearly fundraising event in the National Football League.

In its 11-year history, the DCC has raised more than $45.5 million through multiple cycling challenges and a 5k walk. One hundred percent of the money raised from the event goes directly to research at Sylvester.

“Sebastian’s family is truly remarkable,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., the director of Sylvester, Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, and professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology at the Miller School. “Their ability to channel an immense loss into something that will improve the lives of other children living with cancer in Sebastian’s memory is an inspiration to all of us. We are grateful for their partnership and boundless generosity.”

“The community knew Sebastian as someone who was born and raised here in Miami, and we all felt his loss,” said Javier Sanchez, the executive director of Dolphins Challenge Cancer. “This partnership means a lot to all of us. The goal being that SebastianStrong will raise $125,000 per year, and the Dolphins will match it in order to help Sylvester do what they do best.”

Team SebastianStrong

This year’s SebastianStrong team is made up of family, friends, and volunteers who are committed to meeting the $125,000 yearly goal.

“The year that Sebastian was diagnosed, we decided to participate in the event. I cycled 100 miles, and the rest of the family walked the 5k,” Ortiz said. “Now, we will have a team of 25 amazing people participating in the event.”

“At the heart of it, SebastianStrong is doing what it takes,” Sanchez said. “It takes organizations like his and ours in partnership to show the community that we can make a difference in one of the most terrible diseases of our generation.”

You can support Team Sebastian Strong: Cycling for Hope in the upcoming Dolphins Challenge Cancer event on February 26, by visiting this link: SebastianStrong Foundation | Kindful

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