At age 2, Leigh Dittman told her parents that instead of receiving birthday gifts, she wanted to raise money for Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa, the hospital that had cared for her since infancy. David and Ellen Dittman organized a backyard party and took donations for the pediatric specialty hospital that had become their daughter’s second home.
The event grew each year, with more donations and bigger parties held at larger venues. Leigh set her goal at $1 million. On Dec. 14, the hospital and its Board of Governors honored the 15-year-old patient ambassador for meeting that goal with a new plaque on the hospital’s philanthropic wall.
“It’s very surreal,” Leigh said during the ceremony in which she swapped her bronze fundraising plaque for a gold one, which denotes donors who have given at least $1 million. She thanked the Shriners and the hospital staff for their support over the years as she worked to achieve her lifelong goal.
Board chairman Tom Edwards described his first encounter with Leigh when she was 5. He was supposed to carry her through an archway during a program.
“She said, ‘Mr. Shriner, be careful. I break easy,” he recalled. Since then, he has watched the little girl grow into an accomplished young woman with an unbreakable spirit.
“It is amazing that our children have God's gift to be happy, to inspire others, to be dedicated to a cause, and just live life to its fullness,” he said. “Leigh's smile and inspiration to achieve this goal is overwhelming and furthers the true goal of giving back to society and other children at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa.”
Hospital administrator Jeannette Skinner told those attending the ceremony that Leigh was among the first patients to be part of the hospital’s osteogenesis imperfecta program, which has steadily grown over the years and become one of its premier programs. She noted that Leigh has “given back each and every year” through her annual birthday event, which was held this year on Sept. 26 at the India Cultural Center in Tampa.
“Leigh is one of the most special patients we have,” she said. “This is an individual who is going to make a big difference in the world in her adult life.”
About Leigh Dittman
Leigh Dittman is a high school sophomore, a member of the National Honor Society and plays the violin. She has been a patient at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa since she was 3 weeks old. Leigh was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, commonly known as “brittle bone disease.” The rare genetic condition has varied symptoms depending on the type, but the most common symptoms are weak bones that break easily and short stature. Leigh was honored this year by the Hillsborough County School District for her contributions to the hospital and was the 2011 Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Healthcare Philanthropist of the Year. The Tampa Bay Lightning named her a community hero that same year. In addition to raising money for Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa, Leigh speaks to groups across the United States about her condition and the hospital. She also volunteers at Camp Care-A-Lot, the annual sleepaway summer camp for the Tampa hospital’s patients. Visit leighdittman.com for more information.
About Shriners Hospitals for Children
More than 50,000 children have received orthopaedic specialty care in a family-centered environment at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa since it opened in October 1985. Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa continues to focus on providing the highest quality pediatric medical care to children regardless of the families’ ability to pay and relies on the generosity of donors to sustain its mission. Located on the University of South Florida campus, the Tampa location is a major referral center for complex and highly specialized orthopaedic treatments for children throughout Florida and south Georgia.