Salvatore Antonio-Vanni battled stage IV Neuroblastomba, an aggressive form of childhood cancer, with more than 50 cycles of chemotherapy, over 200 blood transfusions and other medical procedures.
He lost the battle at age 7, but his life has been the inspiration behind the nonprofit Mystic Force Foundation, which is dedicated to raise awareness and money for childhood cancer research.
The city of West Miami took notice and recently presented foundation members a proclamation and declared September as national childhood cancer awareness month.
West Miami Mayor Eduardo Muhiña said he was impressed by Salvatore’s struggle.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“He was a fighter. If you look at his pictures he was always smiling,” Muhiña said. “Cancer is something that has affected our lives one way or another. I lost my mother to cancer about two years and a half ago. It’s something I don’t forget.”
Salvatore’s mother, Silvia Dominguez-Vanni, is co-founder and executive director of Mystic Force Foundation, which she began in 2008.
She works diligently in honor of her late son, who died in 2011. He was diagnosed at age 4. In under four years he underwent 55 cycles of chemotherapy, 50 rounds of radiation, 12 surgeries, over 200 blood and platelets transfusions and more. He was hospitalized more than 440 days and was treated in five states and seven nations.
“Wherever there was a trial available for him, that is where we went,” she said.
When the doctors said Salvatore had a 20 percent chance to live five years, she was motivated.
“We realized then that the reason for such from grim statistics was a lack of funding for new therapies and treatments for these children, which of course was due to a lack of funding for research,” she said.
Salvatore’s father, neurosurgeon Steven Vanni, started a lab to find a cure for childhood cancer at the University of Miami in 2008.
The foundation has been collecting proclamations from all municipalities, she added.
“It’s important the more people pay attention the more people will become aware,” she said. “Most people don’t know childhood cancer is the No. 1 killer of children.”
The foundation’s goal is to fund as many trials as possible in South Florida. Silvia has been traveling to Washington, D.C., to inform Congress of the lack of funding for childhood cancer research and treatment.
“We work hard to make the lives of children while in treatment as ‘happy as possible; whenever possible,’” she said. “We hold monthly family fun nights for the inpatient kids, we grant wishes whenever possible and help families who need guidance and support.”
All monetary donations to the foundation go directly to research, she said.
For more information, visit www.MysticForceFoundation.com.