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Pleasanton: Stricken boy inspires nonprofit group

Dillon Strong Foundation to help families of ailing children

When Dillon O'Leary, 11, collapsed with a major brain hemorrhage just before walking onto a baseball field May 6, 2015, he was airlifted to UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland.

As friends supported the family -- mother Karina, father Patrick and sister Ireland, 13 -- they coalesced into a unit they dubbed Dillon Strong, fiercely determined to help the boy regain his health. Dillon was eventually diagnosed with ependymoma, a rare type of brain and spinal cord tumors.

When Dillon returned home to Pleasanton in November, he was welcomed by friends, neighbors and firefighters.

"It's one day at a time for our superhero," family friend Bree Gomez said. "He's battling cancer and staying as positive as can be."

From observing the O'Learys as they fought for Dillon, Gomez and other friends saw how much support a family needs in such a situation. As a result, they started the Dillon Strong Foundation to give help to children with life-threatening medical conditions and their families.

Its first beneficiary remains Dillon, and the foundation held a fundraiser for him at Barone's earlier this month. A golf tournament is set at Callippe Preserve Golf Course on Aug. 12 to help with Dillon's expenses, which include $1,000 each month for his special food -- and the family anticipates another year of similar costs.

Dillon continues to undergo treatments, including radiation, said Gomez.

But his progress at home has amazed everyone. He went from barely touching "yes" and "no" buttons in the hospital to sitting up, feeding himself, writing, talking and -- the big one -- maneuvering himself around the house in his wheelchair.

Teachers have come in to assess him so he can get back to his education.

"That boy is such a warrior," Gomez said. "Every time I ask how he's doing he says, 'Not so great, I'm hungry.' He loves food, it's all very healthy."

From the beginning, his family has stressed natural foods, and in the hospital they made sure that even his tube feedings were organic, in keeping with Dillon's nutrition since he was born.

Gomez, who is a human resources manager for a company in Livermore, recently joined the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce as a member of the foundation.

"That will help us get the word out," she said. "I would love to start reaching out to more children. I see what the O'Learys go through and what is needed for them alone."

Based on that experience, the foundation has decided on the following aims:

* Food and nutrition for the young patient, including education and resources for the parents

* Transportation to get to rehab appointments

* Recreational adventures for children well enough to attend

* Meals and holiday festivities for families in financial stress

* Homemade swaddle blankets to keep cancer patients warm and comfortable.

"I work full time, that is my bread and butter. The foundation is my passion," Gomez said.

She is also looking for board members for the foundation.

"Everybody has their own passion, which makes it exciting," she said. "One of the board members, Brenda Hernandez, has two boys who were very ill. She is the strongest board member I have since she has been in the shoes of those families."

Contact the Dillon Strong Foundation at (510) 557-2079 or visit www.thedillonstrongfoundation.org.

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Nominations due by Sept. 17

Pleasanton Weekly and DanvilleSanRamon.com are once again putting out a call for nominations and sponsorships for the annual Tri-Valley Heroes awards - our salute to the community members dedicated to bettering the Tri-Valley and the lives of its residents.

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