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April 11, 2011

A HISTORIC MARATHON

Swampscott's Santanello will run Boston as first patient for Mass. General leukemia team

It's become a Boston Marathon tradition. Every year, members of the Mass. General Pediatric Oncology team in the Boston Marathon are individually paired with a cancer patient.

It makes a lot of sense to do it that way. Running 26.2 miles for a good cause is already a noble enterprise, but doing it on behalf of a single patient personalizes the experience in a very intense way.

Dan Santanello of Swampscott, who ran the Boston Marathon for 12 consecutive years, never had trouble identifying closely with the concept of a partner/patient. He didn't have to search too far for a patient, either.

His daughter, Kristin, was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was five years old in 1997. Fortunately for the Santanello family, Kristin's leukemia was detected early during a routine visit to a dentist. The cancer soon went into remission, but Santanello still had to go through chemotherapy for two years as a young child.

"The cancer was in my bloodstream," said Santanello, now a 19-year-old sophomore at Salem State University. "I didn't understand everything at that age and I remember getting sick after chemo treatments, but I always tried to be positive.

"I was just a regular kid — didn't want to be any different. I had no hair, but my best friend had baseball caps and I always wore hats. And I was daddy's little girl."

"Daddy" Santanello, who had played hockey at Swampscott and at Brown University, was so taken by the level of care his daughter received that he began running the Boston Marathon to raise money for the Mass. General Pediatric Oncology/Hematology unit.

Over the years, Santanello personally raised more than $400,000 for the cause as part of the hospital's team of runners, but this year he passed the torch to his daughter. Kristin Santanello will make history as the first ALL patient ever to run Boston for Mass. General's pediatric oncology team when she makes her marathon debut next Monday.

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