'A Night of Music' in Westport arises from personal loss
The Lebo-DeSantie Center for Liver and Pancreatic Disease at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport is becoming integral in providing patients with diagnostic, treatment and support services with the help of funds raised by the annual "A Night of Music."
The center, housed at the hospital's Elizabeth Pfriem SWIM Center for Cancer Care, was named in November 2010 in memory of Fairfielders Keith Lebo and James DeSantie, both of whom died of pancreatic cancer within a year of each other and whose wives, sisters Charlene Sabia Lebo and Suzanne Sabia DeSantie, are the forces behind the musical benefit.
Keith Lebo was a talented musician, who played guitar and wrote songs, and Jim DeSantie, an HVAC specialist, was one of his biggest fans.
The second annual "A Night of Music" benefit will take place Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Westport Country Playhouse and will feature the Christopher Robin Band, Holden Truelove, Jesse Terry, Still Got the Blues, To the Max and the Doug Wahlberg Band. Special guest Neal Smith of the Alice Cooper Band will perform with the Doug Wahlberg Band and Daniela Cardillo. Thunder and Lighting is donating the sound and lighting equipment and Brian Smith will be the emcee.
Proceeds will be used to help people in their fight against pancreatic cancer through St. Vincent's SWIM Across the Sound Foundation.
Stuart G. Marcus, senior vice president, chief medical and clinical officer and chairman of oncology at St. Vincent's, said the $56,000 raised in 2010 "has been used to establish a cost center within the SWIM Foundation for the Lebo-DeSantie Center and will serve as a base to develop future funding."
While the funds have not yet been used directly for patients, Marcus anticipates they "will be used for education of the public with regard to liver and pancreas disease, as well as to fund clinical research in liver and pancreatic cancer. As is true of the foundation in general, monies are used when necessary to support patients who qualify with personal expenses they may have that they cannot meet because of their illness."
Quoting the American Cancer Society, Marcus said 44,000 people nationwide will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011. The lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 71 and is about the same for men and women. The rate of pancreatic cancer has increased steadily since 1998 and is likely because of heightened awareness and improved accuracy of diagnostic testing.
At St. Vincent's, the number of patients treated each year has increased by about 10 percent, "presumably due to recognition by our community physicians and by the public that there is a treatment team of professionals dedicated to treating patients with this disease," Marcus said.
Much has occurred since the creation of the Lebo-DeSantie Center, which was announced to the surprise of Charlene Lebo and Suzanne DeSantie the night of the inaugural benefit.
Marcus said St. Vincent's has given significant institutional support to treating patients with liver and pancreas disease. "Multi-disciplinary conferences dedicated to patients with liver and pancreatic disease have been established and communication among the team of providers necessary to care for these complex patients has been vastly improved," he said. That team consists of surgeon, gastroenterologists, interventional radiologists, pathologists, diagnostic radiologists, nursing and support staff, all of whom work closely with the patients' primary care physicians."
The care and compassion shown to patients also have been demonstrated by Lebo and DeSantie, not only in organizing A Night of Music but by emotionally supporting patients and their families. "Because of Charlene's and Suzanne's dedication," said Marcus, "they have received calls from patients with pancreatic cancer, who they have referred to us for either treatment or for supportive services. The patients and families that I have encountered have been extremely appreciative of the kindness that Charlene and Suzanne have shown them and were very thankful to have someone to talk to about their illness. It always strikes me how appreciative they are for what these two women are doing in the face of such a devastating illness."
The other services provided by St. Vincent's include support groups, yoga sessions, light massage and nutrition and exercise programs, all of which help patients improve their quality of life, he said.
As for Lebo and DeSantie, talking to patients and their families is rewarding for them, but also heart-wrenching as they know their pain all too well.
Keith Lebo, 59, died in August 2009 seven months after diagnosis; Jim DeSantie, 66, died in August 2010 two and a half years after he was diagnosed.
"We have helped a few families already," said Lebo, a member of Fairfield's Fire Commission and former member of the Representative Town Meeting. "What everyone keeps saying over and over again is, `You get it.' Because they know we felt the hurt and the pain. So we can understand what they are talking about ... and it's a comfort for them."
A Night of Music is a tribute to their husbands, who not only were brothers-in-law, but next-door neighbors. When Keith was upstairs practicing on his guitar, Jim usually was sitting outside in a lawn chair listening. From the beginning, the women were determined to make the event positive and inspiring. "Everyone had the same message. This was going to be a celebration. This wasn't going to be sad. This wasn't going to be a tearjerker. We are going to have fun," said DeSantie.
One of the other reasons why the women are so determined to make this year's event, and future ones, a success is because of Marcus' effort in treating patients with pancreatic cancer. "He's passionate about his patients and he cares, as does the whole hospital," said Lebo. And DeSantie added, "Community support is essential for a hospital to survive. There's where we fit in. We are part of the community that wants to support a healthy, strong hospital that can treat us. We have all an interest in that."
"Hospital rock `n' roll" is the term Lebo uses to describe the event that in a year's time has become huge. The success of the 2010 show has attracted more people, including auction donors, vendors, musicians and sound and lighting technicians, with all of them volunteering their goods, services and time. "We owe them a debt of gratitude because there's no way you can do this, without all that participation, successfully," said DeSantie.
Many of the artists have roots in Fairfield County and some perform nationally, like headliner Robin. "All of these guys have been so supportive -- just not for that night but all year-round. Their heart is all in the right place," said DeSantie.
While Linda Bennett, the sisters' cousin who is helping to organize the food for the benefit, agrees that the event is a tribute to all of the artists and others involved because of their generosity, she reserves her true sentiment for what her cousins have accomplished. "They took a thought, put it into play, ran with it and it's just beyond words. The community support, the family support, it's a tribute to my cousins. It's a tribute to the men that they were married to. They were great, great guys."
"A Night of Music" at the Westport Country Playhouse will begin with a silent auction at 6 p.m., followed by live music from 7 to 10. Tickets are $100, $75 or $50, and available by calling 203-227-4177 or online at www.westportplayhouse.org.