This is a story about matchmaking; matching a donor with a recipient, matching a cause with a champion, and matching two people who each turned out to be just what the other needed most. Talia Bennardo and Terri Price are a match made in heaven, though they've never met.
Terri works at Priceless Marketing in Boca Raton. She enjoys her work, she's good at it, but not too long ago she began to feel like she needed to do more. Not too long ago, Talia was a Boca Raton middle school student, the namesake of her family's restaurant, on dialysis waiting for a kidney transplant.
Around May, both the woman and the girl found the matches they were looking for. Talia got her new kidneys and Terri found in Talia the cause - the something "more" - she'd been looking for. This Saturday, Terri and Talia will meet for the first time at the gala fundraiser Terri has organized to help the Bennardo's pay for Talia's ongoing medical bills.
"Truly what happened was a small group of girls came to me and told me what happened to a little girl in our community, Talia Bennardo, and they were trying to raise some money for her medical needs," says Terri. "I donated a small amount of money, but then I came back to my boyfriend and I said, 'We have to do something better.'"
The Bennardo family owned Talia's Tuscan Table in Boca Raton for almost ten years, but the business became too much to manage after Talia fell in in 2012 and they sold it to a family friend.
Talia had complained of a stomach ache from time to time, but it didn't seem serious. After she woke up one morning with swollen eyes that went away with some Benadryl, her mother Josphine decided to take her to the doctor where they did some blood tests, just to be on the safe side.
"By the time we found out what was going on she was already in stage four kidney failure," says Josephine. "They originally thought it was just acute kidney failure and that it would go away but then they did a biopsy."
She'd had no other symptoms.
Talia was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis in April of 2012. According to the NephCure Foundation, FSGS is a disease of the kidneys affecting some 19,000 people in the US. The cause is unknown and there is currently no cure.
Aside from kidney failure, Talia has endured 10 to 12 hours a day of dialysis, a hernia operation, a punctured intestine during surgery, and a broken dialysis catheter that had to be replaced. Through it all, 15 year old Talia has remained pretty up beat, even when they were finally rolling her into her kidney replacement surgery.
"She's mellow," says her mom. "She was so excited when she was going in [to surgery] she was like, 'Mom, I'm going in, I'm getting my life back lets do this.' Her whole attitude was like, 'What do I need to get better?' She didn't moan about it, she didn't cry about it. She was just like, 'OK lets do this.'"
Since May she Talia been recovering and Terri has been organizing.
Terri's boyfriend of four and half years is Jim Guistolisi, owner of Presidential Auto in Delray Beach. Between Terri's marketing contacts and with Jim's help, she has put together a massive fundraising event.
"I used to work at Boca News and I did some marketing events for them however this is my first time doing a charity event and an event of this size. And it's quite a learning experience. And heart touching," says Terri. "I really did want to do something that made a difference."
100 percent of the proceeds from Saturday's event will go to COTA - the Children's Organ Transplant Association - which helps children with chronic illnesses and their families fundraise in their communities to pay for their ongoing care.
Presidential Auto is hosting the event and several corporate sponsors have stepped up to help.
"All the hot dogs and hamburgers and condiments have been donated by Gordon Food Service. We're having a meatball eating contest and a bbq. Publix has offered all the utensils, plates, cups, and water. 101 Cantina is doing all the appetizers and Collado's Market, they're gonna do platters of cut up sandwiches."
They will be auctioning off a wide assortment of donated goods including an autographed Don Shula football donated by Dons Shula's Restaurant, a diamond and ruby pendant from Jewels in Tim, a tabletop fireplace from Sklar Furnishings, and a puppy from Heavenly Puppies. (The last one stopped us too, but Terri promises the winning purchaser of the puppy will be properly vetted before being allowed to take the little guy home.)
Terri is hoping for - and expecting - about 500 or 600 people Saturday.
Perhaps most importantly, Talia will be there with her nurse and she and Terri will meet face to face for the first time.
The event takes place Saturday, August 17, from noon to 5 p.m. at Presidential Auto, located at 3201 S. Federal Highway in Delray Beach. Call 561-927-9999.
You can donate directly to Talia's COTA fund by visiting, cotafortaliab.com.
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