"Best Class Ever"

Dr. Neal Shah and Krystall Waters
Dr. Neal Shah and Krystall Waters, Man and Woman of the Year of the Georgia Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Alum Credits Classmates’ Generosity with Fundraising Honor

Dr. Neal Shah’s fundraising efforts for the Georgia chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have earned him the title of Man of the Year.

But it’s really his former classmates who deserve the accolades, says Shah (’09). More than half of the Class of 2009 donated to his effort to be the top fundraiser for the society’s annual 10-week campaign in the fight against leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma. Shah, a cosmetic dentist at Feather Touch Dental in Atlanta, raised $87,327. In all, the society raised nearly $750,000, almost $125,000 more than its goal.

Commitment to Volunteerism

As a student at GRU, Shah volunteered for Give Kids a Smile, offering free dental care to underserved children, and the Georgia Mission of Mercy, a free two-day dental clinic for low- and no-income adults in Georgia. But the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society campaign marked the most extensive demonstration of his commitment to volunteerism to date.

A patient and friend motivated him to sign up for the challenge. “Robert Bolen competed in 2013 for the title of Man of the Year. He raised $37,000 in just 10 weeks on behalf of Lauraine Frank,” Shah says. “Through Robert, I met Lauraine, who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma four times since she was a 21-year-old junior at Auburn University. Lauraine, who had developed dental issues through chemotherapy, became a patient as well.”

She’s a testament to the power of resiliency and a positive attitude, Shah says.

“Lauraine is truly one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Through her, I learned more about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It is, without a doubt, one of the most efficient charitable organizations I have ever encountered,” he says. “Seventy cents of every dollar goes directly to research and patient funding, including co-pays and prescription assistance.”

Lauraine ’s Story

Bolen and Frank nominated Shah for his own 10-week campaignto raise as much money as he could and compete for the title of Man of the Year. “After hearing Lauraine’s story, how could I possibly say I was too busy?” Shah says.

After accepting the nomination, Shah also learned that former College of Dental Medicine Dean Connie Drisko was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. “It motivated me further to help. Blood cancers do not discriminate and can affect anyone.”

Shah began by forming a team, which he named Pirates of the Cureibbean.

“My selfless team dedicated their time to help champion this cause. Each individual helped throw an event which usually generated $3,000-5,000 each time. My fiancée, and campaign manager, Tejal Kakade, also a College of Dental Medicine 2009 graduate, was hugely instrumental in raising funds. Throwing a charity auction in her hometown, Carrollton, Ga., we raised over $12,000.”

Team of the Year

]The team sent out hundreds ofletters to friends, families, and referrals. “The dental community really gathered around this cause and donated thousands over the course of just 10 weeks. I have to give a special thanks to the class of 2009,” which Shah calls “the best class ever.” Over half the class donated significant amounts of money. Their contributions helped skyrocket Shah over his original goal of $50,000.

“The award should really be called ‘Team of the Year.’ Without everyone’s help, there was no way I could have raised that amount. I definitely didn’t expect it. I told our team, ‘I’m proud of what we did, and though I’m sure we’ve been beat, what we accomplished was incredible,” Shah says. “I didn’t know the final number, or that I was in the lead, until they called my name on stage. Imagine my surprise when my name was called. I didn’t even have a speech written.”

Says Tracy Manning, Senior Manager for the Atlanta Man & Woman of the Year campaign, “Due to tremendous fundraising efforts,
we have raised critical funds to find a cure for blood cancers. We couldn’t be happier with their results.”

It’s not the figure that matters. It’s what that amount represents, Shah says. “My original goal was to raise $50,000. At that amount, we can fund a research project for a year. We chose multiple myeloma, as one of my dental labs lost a family member to this very disease months before. This is the best part: I know exactly where the funds will be used. They’re going directly to research for better treatments, possible prevention, and cures.”

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