Dana is the founder of Cookies4Cures, a non-profit that helps fund research into kids' diseases.
Dana Perella was about 5-years-old when she met Mila Makovec at speech therapy. The pair soon became close friends and worked hard at therapy. However, while Dana's stutter went away after a year of therapy, Mila's kept getting worse. In 2017, Dana heard that her friend had been diagnosed with Batten's disease—a rapidly progressing neurological disorder that is fatal. Researchers discovered that her disease was caused by a unique genetic mutation and that they might be able to help her with an experimental treatment. However, it would cost quite a lot of money and her parents needed all the help they could get to raise the amount. That's when Dana—then a determined 7-year-old—started baking and selling cookies to help save her beloved friend's life.
At first, Dana and her brother Carson sold the cookies by loading them all up in a little red wagon and taking them around the neighborhood. They hit their goal of $1,000 in a few months and decided to take their fundraiser to a larger audience by launching the GoFundMe campaign Cookies for Mila in November 2017. Dana's cookies managed to raise over $56,000 for Mila's treatment which along with the contributions of many others, helped Mila get the first dose of milasen—a custom drug developed just for her—in January 2018.
As Mila's condition improved with continued treatments, Dana realized she wanted to help more children with rare pediatric conditions. Thus, Cookies4Cures, a non-profit that helps fund research into kids' diseases, came into being. Speaking to Kebloom about the non-profit, the now 10-year-old said, "It's run by kids and for kids. We fund research into rare pediatric diseases by selling cookies. When a kid has a rare disease with no cure, research is hope. Cookies4Cures funds hope, one cookie at a time."
"Cookies4Cures wasn’t inspired by a passion, exactly. I started baking and selling cookies to help fund research to save the life of my friend, Mila, who has a rare and fatal disease called Batten. When I started, I’d never baked cookies before. Now, Cookies4Cures has baked 17,000 cookies and I have developed a deep passion for baking and for helping kids with rare diseases. But in the beginning, I just wanted to help save my friend," she explained.
"My whole family supports my business by buying my baking supplies and helping me set up cookie pop-ups. I do a lot of baking with my mom and we figure out new recipes together. I also have about 100 families that volunteer to help with baking and selling cookies," Dana added.
According to the Cookies4Cures website, Dana and her friends have baked over 15,700 cookies to date and raised more than $100k for research into rare childhood diseases. "When I began, I didn’t know I was starting a non-profit. I just kept doing the next bigger thing and my organization kept growing. My first goal was $1,000. I kept setting bigger goals and now I've raised over $100,000 for research into rare diseases. I think if I’d known what I was getting into, it would have seemed impossible. So, I actually have two pieces of advice. Number one, believe in yourself. You need to believe that if you set a big goal, you can reach it. Number two is just start. This is the hardest part. Even if you don’t know exactly how everything is going to work out, just start and keep going, no matter how hard it is," Dana wisely shared.
"The best part is seeing your friends who have rare diseases get better. My friend, Mila, got a brand-new treatment named after her, called Milasen, and it stopped her seizures. My friend, Ben, is now taking a new treatment called Spinraza that is also helping him. Research leads to new treatments and these treatments can help kids with rare diseases live better lives," she revealed.
"Sometimes, the treatments even save their lives. Really, research is hope, and I love that I get to be a part of that hope." Currently, Dana is raising money for her friend Ben, who has the degenerative disease Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The duo has teamed up "with Cure SMA, the leading SMA organization in the U.S., to help fund a research grant that will advance scientific knowledge of this disease and hopefully lead to new treatments that will benefit Ben and the thousands of people in the world like him." You can donate to their cause here.