In May 2013, the beautiful life of Bella Rodriguez-Torres ended after a six-year fight against pediatric cancer; but in this ending, the Live Like Bella® movement began. Five years later, Live Like Bella is now a multimillion dollar childhood cancer foundation and research grant initiative.
After Bella was diagnosed with Stage Four Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma at the age of 4, her parents, Shannah and Raymond Rodriguez-Torres, began raising funding for research. From community bake sales to authoring the novel Why Not Me? A True Story about a Miracle in Miami, Bella’s family wasted no time in their fundraising efforts to support Bella, as well as other children living with cancer.
Bella remained by her parents’ side in their fundraising mission, even organizing a Band-Aid Drive and donating funds raised from her birthday party—a selfless gift—shortly before she passed away at age 10.
In the midst of their devastation, her parents were more determined than ever to help find a cure for childhood cancer—and so the Live Like Bella Foundation was born.
They made it a foundation priority to partner with more than a dozen researchers and institutions that continue to make strides toward treating and curing this disease. The state of Florida recognized the foundation’s drive in its research mission by creating and funding the Live Like Bella Pediatric Cancer Research Grant Initiative in 2017. Through this state research grant, the Florida Department of Health has awarded more than $5 million in the past two years to research that focuses exclusively on childhood cancer.
The Florida Department of Health turned to ORAU to help in quickly getting this new research grant initiative off the ground. Janet Kile, ORAU peer review program manager, eagerly accepted the sudden rush of new work, touched by Bella and her family’s story.
Live Like Bella is now one of four biomedical peer review programs managed by ORAU, yet it stands as the only program that focuses on pediatric cancer research, Kile’s favorite part of the program.
“I am passionate about what we do because of the real-life results of the funded research. This program is especially important because of the focus on children,” Kile said.
In Live Like Bella’s first year as a research grant initiative, the Florida Department of Health awarded five research grants totaling $2 million. Funding for 2018 was increased to $3 million. While the fight continues, researchers, peer review experts, legislators and everyone involved with this initiative are reminded to spend each day living like Bella.