Sister of 11-year-old with diabetes raises $110K for research

She organized 200 family and friends for a charity walk. She put together a bowling tournament and raffle that raised $5,000. Last month, she held a bake sale that earned $798 in a single day. Over the past five years, Lily Cavallaro, a whirlwind of energy, a dynamo of determination, has raised over $110,000 for type 1 diabetes research.

"I want to help find a cure," Lily, a sweet-faced 13-year-old eighth-grader at St. Joseph School in Cockeysville, said of the disease she undoubtedly knows more about than most people.


This, because in 2009, Lily's sister Bella, now an 11-year-old fifth grader at St. Joseph, was diagnosed with the disease. Since then, Lily has swung into action, founding Bella's Battalion, a team to walk in fundraisers such as the Maryland 2014 Walk to Cure Diabetes, taking place April 5 at M&T Stadium in Baltimore, as well as spearheading other fundraising activities.

During a recent meeting at a Hunt Valley restaurant, the sisters and their father, Mark Cavallaro, of Phoenix, met with a reporter to talk about their personal campaign to benefit the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Chapter of JDRF, dedicated to funding type 1 diabetes research, on whose board he serves. They have come straight from school in their school uniforms of navy sweaters and navy pleated skirts.


Mark, a businessman, and his wife, Angela Cavallaro, a human resources consultant, have three daughters. Maddie, 16, is a junior at Hereford High School.

Five years ago, Bella, then 7, hadn't been feeling well. "I was tired and drowsy," she said. Still, the diagnosis came as a surprise.

As it happened, her mother was taking a sister for a doctor's visit. Bella went along. Her mother said something to the doctor, who ordered a blood test right there. The test showed a blood sugar level so high that Bella was sent immediately to the hospital.

"I was in the hospital for three days. There were a lot of tests. It was scary," she said. But then, "I started getting insulin and I had more energy."

Bella's experience happens more often than you'd think. Unlike type 2 diabetes, which develops over time, type 1 diabetes "comes on suddenly," said Kathy Burk, senior director of development for the local JDRF chapter. "You are immediately put on insulin and you stay on it for the rest of your life."

An estimated 26 million Americans have diabetes. Of that figure, three million have type 1 diabetes, the rest, type 2. Type 1 used to be known as "juvenile" diabetes because it was thought to affect children only. Research has shown otherwise. Of newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic cases, half are adults.

That's not the only difference between the two types of diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas stops producing insulin for all practical purposes. Type 2 is a metabolic disorder in which insulin may be produced but is not processed properly. These patients do not necessarily go on insulin; diet, exercise and medication can make a big difference.

The JDRF chapter is part of JDRF International, a nonprofit that supports research into type 1 diabetes. The local JDRF serves 75,000 people with type 1 diabetes in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia. Its two offices are located in Linthicum and Washington.


Of the chapter's annual $6 million budget, 80 percent goes to research and research-related education, including Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, University of Maryland Medical System and National Institutes of Health. Other funding goes for a mentorship program to adjust to the diagnosis, and collaboration with health organizations that do diabetes screenings.

"We value our relationship with the Cavallaro's. They've done so much for our organization," Burk said.

Bella is responsible for managing her disease and she does so with aplomb. She tests her blood sugar up to a dozen times a day. She wears an insulin pump whose site is changed every three days. She plays saxophone in the band. She plays lacrosse, basketball and field hockey. She belongs to an exercise club at school. She swims.

The Cavallaros are a big family. Bella and Lily have 22 first cousins. Lily credits her successful fundraising to their support. At her most recent event, the bake sale held outside J&J Alternations & Cleaning, in Timonium, "I called them up and asked, 'Would you make something?'" said Lily, and they did.

Cakes, pies, cupcakes and cookies arrived. The Amish Market in Hunt Valley donated baked goods, too. "I went in and asked and they said 'yes,'" Lily said.

The sale started around 9:30 a.m. and was sold out by noon. Perhaps best of all, Bella was the star of the sale. "It was really great. People asked if I was Bella," she said, as though she were a celebrity.


Lily is now in the process of organizing for the JDRF chapter's annual Maryland Walk to Cure Diabetes, set for April 5 at M&T Bank Stadium. She is marshalling Bella's Battalion.

"I want to have more walkers and raise more money," Lily said of her goal.

For information and registration for the Maryland 2014 Walk to Cure Diabetes at M&T Stadium in Baltimore, on April 5, visit the website Bella's website is