A generous lead donation of $5 million (with a total commitment of $7 million) and an outstanding personal commitment to lead fundraising efforts demonstrate Cynthia and Tony Petrello's dedication to bringing this first-of-its-kind research initiative to life.
Every day for Cynthia and Tony Petrello begins with a miracle — watching their 8-year-old daughter, Carena, eat breakfast. Carena mastered chewing solid food last September. "It took a million repetitions, but her brain finally caught it and now owns it," says Cynthia. "That's a miracle." They attribute much of their inspiration for giving to their daughter — to her strength, determination, and purity of heart.
Carena is working on other miracles too, like learning to walk and talk. At her age, they shouldn't necessarily be miracles. But Carena suffers from a neurological condition that has forced her to fight since birth to achieve the normal developmental milestones of childhood.
Born early at 24 weeks and weighing only 20 ounces, Carena was diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia (PVL), a common neurological disease in premature infants caused by a lack of oxygen or blood flow to the brain. As a result, Carena developed cerebral palsy, or chronically impaired motor skills, and other developmental delay issues — issues for which the Petrellos are devoted to finding answers.
A Worldwide Search for Cures
"It's very confusing for parents, not knowing what the signs are and never expecting to have a child with a neurological disorder," Cynthia says. "Tony and I are used to being able to fix things. You set a goal and you achieve it. We were really brought to our knees."
Tony, president and chief operating officer of Nabors Industries, the largest drilling contractor in the world, and member of the Texas Children's Hospital Board of Trustees, says they investigated pediatric research institutions across the country, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and UCLA, and some in Europe and other parts of the world. "You hear about stem cell trials in Mexico or the Caribbean, and a parent will take their child anywhere in the world if there's a two percent chance of making that child walk or even speak a word," he explains.
Tony's widespread search led him to the conclusion that translational research on a large scale was needed to make a dramatic difference — yet no one was doing it. "There are a few places that focus on brain research for adults, but I can't find anything for kids. There's an incredible need that is not being met, and yet at the same time, there's an incredible opportunity," he says.
Hope for the Future
Tony and Cynthia found that opportunity right here in their own backyard at Texas Children's Hospital. They look at Carena every day and want to ensure that she and all children like her get the chance to reach their full potential.
"She makes us and everyone around us feel like you're in front of someone that's been put here for a greater purpose," says Tony. "We have great support from family and friends and a belief that at the end of the tunnel, there is some light. There is something that's going to make it a better day." Their hope is that with the launch of the NRI, that day will be here soon.
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