Neelam Shah of Mechanicsville, Maryland and Naggena Ohri of Leonardtown, Maryland have been named the 2020 National Students of the Year by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Together their team, Fly4aCure, raised over $450,000 in seven weeks for LLS, according to a press release.
Shah and Ohri campaigned for their cause and hosted Rhythm 2020, a multicultural showcase in their local community of St. Mary’s County. The girls had 180 performers and drew over 700 people in their music and dance program held on Saturday, February 22, 2020.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is a non-profit organization whose mission is to cure blood cancers and also improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer; LLS has invested more than a $1 billion in research aimed at helping these patients live longer healthier lives. Since 1960 there has been an 87% increase in survival rates of childhood leukemia.
The organization’s work not only benefits those with blood cancers; 40% of new cancer therapies approved from 2010-2015 were first approved for blood cancer pts. Now these new therapies are being used to treat breast, kidney, liver, lung cancers, as well as arthritis and diabetes.
Shah and Ohri participated in the Students of the Year program (SOY), a campaign run by LLS as team members in 2018. Team Fly4acure discovered this program online when researching LLS and the impact it has in the lives of families affected by blood cancer. “We were amazed to see that there was something specifically targeted towards high school students to make a difference,” said Shah.
This campaign takes highly motivated high school students who are interested in leadership, volunteerism, and philanthropy and allows them to make a difference in the lives of those affected by blood cancers. It’s a 7-week campaign where teams from all over the country compete to raise the most funds for LLS, and whoever raises the most money regionally and nationally is announced the winner.
The Students of the Year Program in 2018 mobilized over 600 high school students to raise awareness of blood cancers. In total, these young men and women raised over 13 million dollars for blood cancer research. This year, Maryland SOY 2020 alone raised over $900,000 and National SOY raised $30,000,000.
Rhythm 2020 was a multicultural showcase of acts from all around the world performed by local high school students. Shah and Ohri, as dancers themselves, performed a semi-classical Indian dance as the final production.
In addition to Rhythm, Shah and Ohri had the opportunity to perform their dance and speak about their campaign to raise awareness at the AAPI Governing Body Meeting in Long Island and the Greater Washington AAPI Heart Gala, both in February.
The duo were helped by their Presenting Sponsor, AAPI, which with the generosity of its members were able to donate $100,000 to the campaign. AAPI was honored at the Maryland LLS Gala on March 7, 2020 in Baltimore. Dr. Suresh Reddy, Dr. Gautam Sammadar, Dr. Naresh Parikh, and Dr. Raj Bhayani were relentless in their support of Team Fly4aCure and LLS.
Two years ago, Shah brother, Samir, and cousin Saar similarly won the title of National Students of the Year for LLS in 2018. They had raised $413,000 with the help of AAPI. They created Team Fly4acure, and Neelam and Naggena were able to continue their legacy of philanthropy, the release said.
Shah’s connection to LLS is a personal one, as her father, Dr. Amish Shah, was diagnosed with Primary Mediastinal B Cell Lymphoma when she was 10. Now in remission, the entire family is grateful for the support and research breakthroughs that led to his recovery.
Both Samir and Neelam have grown up with AAPI. Their grandfather, Dr. Vinod K. Shah, served as AAPI President in 2009-2010 and is very active in the group. Their grandparents, parents, uncles, and aunts are all AAPI members, as well.
Shah, currently a junior in high school, plans to follow in the footsteps of her grandparents, parents and brother in pursuing a career in medicine. She will be a third generation AAPI member. She is grateful for the opportunity that LLS has provided and blown away by the generosity of her Indian and AAPI family.