JAMESTOWN — Kat Manzella had hoped to have a ball, with everyone dressed in royal attire, when her goddaughter, Kate Thornton, came home from the hospital after a transplant.
That didn’t happen. Kate, diagnosed with leukemia at age 3, underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2010. But days before she was to be released from the hospital, she developed a fever and had increased pain. Her cancer was back, and there were no further treatments for her.
Two days after coming home, she died at age 5.
The dream of a costume ball for Kate continued to burn in Manzella’s heart.
In honor of Kate and other children who have had cancer, the Kisses4Kate organization will hold its third annual ball at 6 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Greensboro Marriott Downtown.
Manzella is executive director of Kisses4Kate, a nonprofit she started with friend Katye Oliver to help children with cancer and their families. The theme for the costume ball is “Hollywood.” Tickets are $50 per person and $85 for couples, with the proceeds benefitting Kisses4Kate.
“We decided we needed to celebrate that Kate’s short life had brought such wide awareness about the struggles of childhood cancer and that Kisses4Kate had been able to assist so many other children as a legacy to her,” Manzella said.
They came up with the idea for the first ball, “Tuxedos and Tiaras,” and followed with “Jazz n’ Rags” last year.
“We raised $17,000 last year and hope to double that this year,” Manzella said.
Last year, tickets sold out a week before the event, so Manzella encourages everyone to purchase tickets in advance. Visit Kisses4Kate.org to purchase tickets or call
The ball includes dinner and dancing, as well as a cash bar, raffle, door prizes and auction items, including vacation packages and movie tickets. Costumes are encouraged but not required. A $500 donation will sponsor a table for the families of children in treatment.
Manzella and Oliver started Kisses4Kate while Kate was undergoing treatment in an effort to raise enough money to move Kate and her family into a new, larger home, one equipped for Kate’s needs. They raised $100,000 in 10 days, moving Kate into her new house, complete with a princess room, two nights before she died.
“It only took one look from her beautiful eyes to see that she was mesmerized with the beauty of a little girl’s dream come true,” Manzella said.
Manzella and Oliver continued Kisses4Kate in Kate’s honor to help other children afflicted by cancer. The organization offers support to families who are separated by hardships caused by lengthy treatments and hospitalizations. It also provides emergency funds for mortgage payments, car payments and utilities, in addition to monthly household and living expenses.
It sponsors more than 149 children in three hospitals: Brenner, Duke and Palmetto Health Children’s in South Carolina.
“Some of these families have lost their homes, cars, insurance, and at times, some didn’t even have food in their pantry,” Manzella said. “Parents who are in the fight for their child’s life shouldn’t have to worry if their other children have enough to eat or power in their home.”
Kisses4Kate also runs Beads of Courage, Gowns4Girls and Pillows4Parents.
Launched in 2011, the Beads of Courage program gives children a bead for every milestone — nights away from home, pints of blood, radiation, chemotherapy and even one for hair loss.
“It’s a form of narrative medicine where the children tell the stories of their journey through their beads,” Manzella said.
Implemented in 2012, the Gowns4Girls program involves volunteers sewing princess gowns for every girl on the oncology floor at Brenner Children’s Hospital. They get to pick out their fabric and have as many gowns as they want.
“This is a huge step of empowerment for a child that does not have control over anything that happens to them from the moment they are diagnosed,” Manzella said.
Pillows4Parents was launched in 2013. Each family at Brenner receives a custom pillow for the sleeping bench in the rooms on the ninth floor of Brenner. It rolls up like a sleeping bag.
“They are so important when a parent must spend endless weeks sleeping on the equivalent of a restaurant bench during their child’s stay at the hospital,” Manzella said.
All profits from this year’s ball will be used to support Kisses4Kate programs and offer financial assistance to more families.
“Kate’s short life had more purpose than some of our very long ones,” Manzella said. “I like to think that because of her, there are children out there that were able to go home and live their lives after treatment.”
Contact Jennifer Atkins Brown at (336) 574-5582.