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The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation

The Monti and Saladino families, above, continue the work of The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation. Photo from Jim Kennedy

Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation continues to raise money to support cancer care and research on Long Island.

Caroline Monti Saladino speaks at last year’s Cancer Survivors Day. Photo from Mel Saladino

The foundation, named for Don Monti, who died at 16 in 1972 from acute myeloblastic leukemia, has changed some of the events this year, but not the mission.

Instead of the annual ball at the Woodbury-based Crest Hollow Country Club, which the Montis own, the foundation started its Capital Giving Campaign and hopes to raise $1 million this year. All of the proceeds support the mission, since the foundation’s senior staff, including Caroline Monti Saladino, president, work for free.

“Today with COVID, nothing has changed with the journey,” she said.

The foundation has mailed out a capital campaign brochure that includes letters from Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health; Richard Barakat, director of Northwell Health Cancer Institute; and Bruce Stillman, president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“Your investment in cancer clinical care, research, wellness and survivorship enhances our ability to provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for our patients and enables us to provide support services for their families and loved ones,” Barakat wrote in his letter.

Monti Saladino, who has helped cancer patients for close to five decades, said the needs of cancer patients haven’t changed.

The Monti foundation has become a multigenerational family cause, which Tita and Joseph started months after their son died. The foundation has raised more than $47 million to support research, education and patient care in oncology and hematology. It has donated money to Northwell Health, Huntington Hospital, Long Island Jewish and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for everything from patient care and treatment to genetic counseling to basic research.

The foundation recently donated $50,000 to Huntington Hospital to help fund its developing cancer center.

Numerous members of the Monti and Saladino families have dedicated time and effort to improving the lives of people with cancer and to offering support to the families of patients. Monti Saladino said her children are involved, as are some of her 12 grandchildren, who have continued the family tradition by raising money to support the foundation.

The foundation has an office at CSHL, where Stillman said he often sees “family members working there, helping to raise support — it’s an amazing dedication.”

In addition to the visible connection through laboratories at CSHL, the foundation has supported four Don Monti cancer centers in Nassau and Suffolk, at North Shore University Hospital, also Huntington, Glen Cove and Plainview hospitals.

The members of the Monti and Saladino families have also played instrumental roles by visiting patients, hosting Don Monti Cancer Survivors Day events and forging new relationships with recipients of their support.

When Northwell and CSHL were looking for a link between the basic research at the Lab where new ideas and methods are developed, and the clinic where medical teams worked to provide personalized care, the Monti foundation helped facilitate a partnership.

“We were very familiar with what was going on” at Northwell partly “through the Monti foundation,” Stillman said. “They were helpful. It was good that people on both sides knew each other.”

Cold Spring Harbor Lab Connection

CSHL has received between $300,000 to $500,000 each year for over a decade from the foundation, which supports innovative research and supplements the funds the scientists receive from government agencies like the National Cancer Institute.

Receiving national grants is difficult and competitive, which increases the value of philanthropic funding that is the “driver of innovation and one of the reasons the United States is so prominent in research,” Stillman said.

He appreciates how the foundation offers a direct connection between the scientists working to cure a disease and the patients and their families who are, and have been, battling cancer.

Principal investigators, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students attend Cancer Survivors Day, during which they see people who might benefit from their research efforts.

“When you see patients, it does change the way you think about how you do the research,” Stillman said.

The funds from the foundation have supported numerous research initiatives at CSHL, including the work of Nicholas Tonks and Christopher Vakoc.

Working with chemists, Tonks developed molecules that inhibit enzymes called protein tyrosine phosphatases, which could be used to treat breast cancer.

Vakoc, meanwhile, has found subtypes of cancer that require critical proteins to grow. He is working on a program to identify how to target what Stillman described as the “Achilles heel” of some cancers.

“Our reputation through the years as a patient-oriented organization and a research-oriented organization has really sustained us. A lot of the people we have healed through our organization are very generous.”

— Caroline Monti Saladino

Northwell Health Connection

The Monti foundation works closely with Dr. Ruthee-Lu Bayer, who is the chief of stem cell transplantation at Northwell Health.

“She and her team are amazing,” Monti Saladino said.

She recalled that Bayer was doing clerical work she didn’t have time to do in the midst of her life-saving and life-extending efforts.

The foundation’s president suggested that the hospital should hire an administrator so Bayer’s team could see more patients. Monti Saladino spoke to the hospital administrator and said she would contribute $100,000 a year for five years, if the hospital contributed the remaining cost. The hospital agreed, providing some relief for Bayer’s efforts.

Monti Saladino said contributors appreciate the history of the Monti foundation and its ongoing focus.

“Our reputation through the years as a patient-oriented organization and a research-oriented organization has really sustained us,” she said. “A lot of the people we have healed through our organization are very generous.”

Stuart Hayim, who is a dealer of Ferraris and Maseratis on Long Island, recovered from lymphoma in 1979 while receiving medical treatment and personalized attention from Tita Monti, at the Don Monti Division of Oncology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. Since then, he has won boat races and raised money each year for the foundation.

Monti Saladino said the foundation helps patients wherever and however it can.

When her young brother Don was diagnosed with leukemia in 1972, oncology and chemotherapy were “primitive,” she said. In terms of patient care, the medical experience “didn’t make people very comfortable.”

The Foundation’s Goal

Through the money the Don Monti foundation raised, the goal was to make the challenging experience of dealing with treating cancer more bearable for people and the families who go through it, she said.

The foundation built the first bone-marrow transplant unit in the 1990s, added a patient lounge and funded Cancer Survivors Day.

Monti Saladino said she “lives and breathes” her brother every day. Don died in June 1972, and her parents, Tita and Joseph Monti, had their first fundraiser that December.

Tita Monti, who died in 2006, said she didn’t want what happened to Don to happen to other people.

“We need to make a purpose out of his short 16 years of life, from the joy he gave us,” Monti Saladino recalled her mother saying.

Her brother’s story is a credit to his determination and to his mother’s perseverance, Monti Saladino said. Doctors had given him six weeks to live. His mother combined beetroot powder with natural and other healthy treatments that extended his life by 16 months.

Stillman said the legacy of the Monti family is evident throughout Long Island.

“It’s quite impressive, all of the number of people they’ve touched,” he said. “They’ve improved the treatment environment, the cancer environment, the clinicians and researchers.”

Monti Saladino said she and the family are far from perfect.

“We’ve got our issues,” she said. “They don’t affect this. This is a real focus that never changes.”

For more information, visit www.donmontifoundation.org.