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Local teens honored at Georgetown University Hospital

Washington, DC - It feels like just yesterday that cousins Samir Shah of The Calverton School and Saar Shah of Great Mills High School took on the task of becoming difference makers in the fight against blood cancer. Back in 2017, the two boys were just high school students with the idea of raising blood cancer awareness locally for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society(LLS). The boys created a team of fellow high school students to compete in the LLS Maryland Student of the Year competition with minor simple goals.

Inspired by a kite festival in DC, the pair planned to host their own version in St. Mary’s County with the small and achievable goal of bringing in 200 guests and raising $25,000. The inspiration of the kites would also go on to influence their Student of the Year team name, Fly4ACure. It is now safe to say that the teens had no idea what their future would hold in terms of success.

“Originally, we just wanted to create a community event that would support LLS,” Samir Shah explained. “Our journey with LLS has been going on for a while. My father was diagnosed with lymphoma and Saar’s cousin was diagnosed with leukemia so it is very personal to us.”

Their passion and drive for successfully raising awareness led the team to far surpass their participation and fundraising goals. The kite festival was attended by over 1,200 people, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer[D-Md.] and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital President Michael Sachtleben.

The boys described how after breaking one goal, they would just set a new one. After raising $25,000 they would shoot for $50,000, after that $100,000, and so on. Their steadfast and tremendous efforts managed to raise the massive sum of $412,581 over a brief seven-week period. The result: the pair secured not only the title of LLS Maryland Student of the Year, but also the national Student of the Year title, while simultaneously setting a national fundraising record.

“We were very fortunate to have both the support of our local and national communities,” Saar Shah said. “As we continue our quest, we plan to stay active in the organization and implement future programs to help raise awareness.” 

And if the Fly4ACure team’s trophies and titles weren't enough, their impressing efforts seized the attention of a great deal of staff at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC. So much so that the hospital felt it appropriate to memorialize the Shah’s successes with a large shadowbox that will hang in their blood infusion center lobby for decades to come.

On June 20, the team and family members reconvened at the Lombardi Cancer Center inside the hospital to cut the ribbon on artwork that will soon be gracing the walls of that very building. The artwork was comprised of a collage of artistic kites that were originally crafted back in 2017 by a local Girls Scouts troupe that worked the ‘Make a Kite Booth’ at the kite festival, where kites were created for suffering cancer patients. The duo went on to say during their speech that they hope this new artwork “will help patients to ‘elevate’ their moods and bring them hope.”

“I was just blown away by what [they] were able to accomplish,” Georgetown University Hospital President Michael Sachtleben said. “For me especially in healthcare, working on the board for LLS, seeing everyday the difference philanthropy makes in the lives of our patients. It is just so rewarding when I see gratitude in action, but to see it from some of our youngest and our brightest and our best is phenomenal. Not only have you inspired so many to give to your cause but you inspire me as well.”

Both boys have stated that they have plans to take similar paths into the medical field. Samir, 17, says that he has plans of becoming a physician or possibly working on something research-oriented. Saar, now 16 and an intern with Medstar, says he would ultimately like to do something specifically with patient care but that his future is “open ended.”

“You actually sparked something,” Executive Director of the Maryland LLS Chapter Jonathan Wilson said during the ceremony. “Not many know that we did have ‘Student of the Year’ in Maryland for many years… but there hadn't been a national campaign until Samir and Saar ran last year. From last year to this year, it is going to bring in multi-million dollar revenue. Even though [their] record still stands, all that new money will be coming into the organization. We really look forward to the legacy that Samir and Saar have installed into our region, and the Shah family in total.”

Jonathan Wilson speaking at the ribbon cutting on June 20.

Samir’s Sister, Neelam Shah and her friend, Naggena Ohri, will be picking up the ropes this year to possibly try and tackle team Fly4ACure’s mountainous record in the fashion of a "sibling rivalry."

The pair of girls is tentatively planning to host the annual kite festival on Oct. 12 at the St Mary’s County Fairgrounds.

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