Saturday, November 17, 2018
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Cancer cure fundraiser inspires with magic

For four months, the Martucci family sat in the intensive care unit, praying 6-year-old Lawrence would win his fight against leukemia.

Even though Dr. Cameron Tebbi stayed in the ICU for 17 weeks helping Lawrence battle, the child did not survive.

Now, 20 years later, his sister, Luana Martucci, honors him with the Lawrence A. Martucci Benefit Corp.

"I decided to join the Children's Cancer Research Group through the 1Voice Foundation to give them all the benefits from any fundraiser we do, because Dr. Tebbi, who is director of the lab for the Children's Research Group, also treated my brother for two years," Martucci said. "I don't think he saw his family that (17 weeks)."

The 1Voice Foundation will host the third annual Magic Cure Benefit on Saturday at the Ritz Ybor with a theme of making childhood cancer disappear. Illusionist Reynold Alexander, Luana Martucci's friend from college, will provide the entertainment.

"He came up to me (sophomore year) and said this is my last year at the University of Tampa. I'm going to do what I love," Martucci said with a laugh. "I was like, 'A full-time magician? Alright I'll see you back here next year.' "

Alexander did not return to school. He took his talents to Puerto Rico, eventually setting a Guinness World Records mark for fastest straightjacket escape — while hanging upside down, from a rope, attached to a crane, that was on fire.

Though he tones it down for the benefit show, the stage will still come alive with lights and smoke.

"I don't know what his closing act will be, but I am always blown away by how he can touch the audience," Martucci said.

Alexander even visits with children at Tampa General Hospital, sharing his magic secrets with the young patients.

Tebbi makes the more serious visits at TGH, complementing bone marrow treatments with research work in his lab at the University of South Florida.

"We are working on a protein that has the potential for becoming a leukemia vaccine," said Tebbi, who became interested in studying leukemia in high school.

He has been doing research for 40 years and his hard work is paying off.

"At the first Magic Cure Benefit, a young girl came out on stage with flowers for him and said, 'Thank you for saving my life', " volunteer Beth Gaddis recalled.

Tebbi says he's enjoying more success now than he did 10 years ago thanks to technology, but funding still remains a challenge.

"If you're holding a dollar in your hand that represents cancer research, about 4 cents goes to pediatric. Ninety-six percent goes to adult cancers, if you will," said 1Voice Foundation executive director Mary Ann Massolio.

Not only does the Lawrence A. Martucci Benefit Corp. give 100 percent of its donations to the cause, it serves as a sort of therapy for Luana and her parents.

"I was 14 when he died and there's not so much I could do, especially when you have parents who are highly depressed," Martucci said. "You know, my family is Sicilian, and we don't seek therapy, so basically it's just buried inside your soul somewhere.

"I would not have been able to even talk to you on the phone three years ago without bawling".

In the past, Massolio, has spoken for, or accompanied Martucci on stage during the benefit, but this year Martucci is strong enough to do it alone.

"I truly feel like I don't know who is benefitting more," Martucci said.

Contact Arielle Waldman at [email protected]

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