Ron D’Andrea ’81 DMD still remembers the nightmarish shadow that a cancer diagnosis cast over his family seven years ago.
His son, Kevin, was a senior at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Conn., when he spiked a temperature and was overcome with lethargy. Blood tests revealed a serious problem.
“Kevin’s doctor told us to get him to a hospital immediately because his blood counts were so off,” said D’Andrea, a dentist in Hamden, Conn.
Kevin was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a devastating blow that shook his family. He was able to graduate from high school that spring but had to delay starting his freshman year at Providence College in R.I. while he underwent intense chemotherapy. Kevin spent the next three years receiving treatment at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut and Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island while juggling an intense academic curriculum at Providence.
“With our visits to the hospital, Kevin and I saw how families struggled both emotionally with the diagnosis and economically to make ends meet,” Dr. D’Andrea said. “I just wanted to do something that could help families faced with a crisis like we were undergoing.”
As a result, Dr. D’Andrea established a new fund at his alma mater to help any UConn dental student going through an emergency or economic hardship. The Dental Student Crisis Fund can be used to help a student who suddenly needs cash to, for instance, pay for an unexpected trip home or to deal with an economic, health, or family hardship.
The fund will provide some stress relief to dental students, who, like many graduate students, are often managing on a shoestring budget, said Dr. R. Lamont MacNeil, dean of the UConn School of Dental Medicine.
“Having a fund like this will really help in those emotional situations where the last thing you want to think about is having dollars in the bank. You just want to get through those issues,” MacNeil said. “It could be a death in the family or a parent who is ill, and the student just has to get home.”
Dr. D’Andrea established the fund to honor Kevin, 25, who is now nearly five years cancer-free and thriving in his fourth year at the UConn School of Dental Medicine. In fact, Kevin recently won a dean’s award for his work on fungus and saliva. He also has organized a mission trip to Grenada in May to provide dental care to underserved people.
Kevin, who plans to contribute to the fund himself once he graduates, said he hopes it not only eases the burden, but helps keep students on track.
“I hope that it relieves some of the stress to get over the terrible circumstance in which they find themselves,” he said. “I hope it really does help a student to follow their dreams and become who they want to become,” he said.
The D’Andreas hope that more donors will step forward and add to the Dental Student Crisis fund, so that when needs arise, students will have an immediate resource to help them.