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Here's why this boy has a kidney that's 3 times older than he is.

"He's a success, even with all his side effects. He's a success, because he's still here."

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Northwestern Mutual

Meet Tony Salerno. He's 13. Well, most of him is 13.

"If someone asks me how old I am, I can tell them, ‘Well, part of me is 50, and the other part of me is 13,'" jokes Tony.

Tony just got a new kidney from his dad, so while he's really a 13-year-old boy, his new kidney's almost four times as old.


He needed a kidney because the treatments that saved his life also did a lot of damage. At 2.5 years old, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of nerve-based cancer.

Baby Tony in the hospital. Photo courtesy of Karen Salerno.

At the time, the rate of survival for someone Tony's age was about 30%, but, thanks to rigorous treatment, he was pronounced cancer-free at age 3.

However, the intense treatments, which included five rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, and total body radiation, did a number on his little body. Though he is still cancer-free 10 years later, Tony is dealing with a number of health problems as a result.

"I have to take a lot of pills at every meal," says Tony. "I have to get nightly injections and a weekly injection."

He has some high-frequency hearing loss from the chemo and cataracts in both eyes. His brain's processing speed is slightly slower than normal, which means he takes more time on tests and assignments. That said, he's no less intelligent than the other kids in his class. "I'm smart," retorts Tony.

His adult teeth have only 20% of the root structure they should. Therefore, eating things like corn on the cob can be tough. He also has only one kidney because the radiation destroyed the other one.

It sounds like a lot for anyone to handle, much less a 13-year-old, but Tony keeps walking tall.

Tony with his Superman T-shirt. Photo courtesy of Karen Salerno.

"I've nicknamed him 'the Mayor' because when he walks into a room, whether it's filled with adults or kids, he acts like he's running for office and wants to talk to everyone," Tony's dad, Tony Sr., writes in an email.

Tony's in Boy Scouts. He is often outside, hanging with friends and learning from nature. When he's inside, he's usually playing video games or watching movies with his family.

One New Year's Eve, they were watching "Back to the Future" and Tony's mom, Karen, remarked on Michael J. Fox's short stature. Tony's also always going to be short because the chemo affected his growth. Seeing someone else who's small be so cool definitely gave him a boost.

In the midst of managing symptoms and living the life of an average 13-year-old, Tony got news that his remaining kidney was failing. He needed a transplant.

Karen was ruled out as a donor candidate because her blood type wasn't compatible, but Tony's dad met the long list of criteria.

[rebelmouse-image 19531262 dam="1" original_size="1270x628" caption="Tony's parents. Image via NorthwesternMutual/YouTube." expand=1]Tony's parents. Image via NorthwesternMutual/YouTube.

"My biggest worry next was that they would find something wrong with me," writes Tony Sr. "And I'm not a perfect match, but I'm the best match we found."

In November 2016, Tony's doctors said he'd probably need the transplant within one to three years. However, just a month later, his numbers weren't looking so good, and they decided to schedule the procedure for summer 2017. Tony had his transplant on Aug. 1, and his family is happy to report that it was a success!

Tony felt a little "weird" about getting a part of his dad, but his dad lightens the mood with jokes.

Tony at a Lego exhibit. Photo courtesy of Karen Salerno.

"Mostly I kid him that he better take care of it, because I will be watching, and that he gets to celebrate not only his birthday, but his kidney's birthday on my birthday," writes Tony Sr.

Joking aside, it's not easy for his parents to see Tony struggle, especially when he's just trying to live a normal kid's life.

Tony goofing in a hammock. Photo courtesy of Karen Salerno.

Tony Sr. writes that it's hard to watch him "encounter his limitations alongside his friends and schoolmates." Life after cancer, especially when you're also a growing boy, can be a roller coaster, and sometimes they just feel like they're along for the ride.

But with a son like Tony who has beaten so many odds and, despite his limitations, keeps on truckin', it's not all scary.

Of course, things would not look nearly so bright if it weren't for the extraordinary medical support Tony's had over the years.

[rebelmouse-image 19531265 dam="1" original_size="1276x618" caption="Tony with Dr. Michael Hogarty at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Image via NorthwesternMutual/YouTube." expand=1]Tony with Dr. Michael Hogarty at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Image via NorthwesternMutual/YouTube.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in particular really impressed Tony's parents.

"From a scientific perspective, the things they can find out about him without having to do invasive, exploratory surgery are amazing," remarks Karen.

In fact, Tony's case was involved in initial immunotherapy work at the hospital — a less invasive treatment that involves boosting disease-fighting cells to enable them to target the cancer better. Much of their research wouldn't be possible without funding from companies like Northwestern Mutual.

In the midst of seeing other kids who aren't as lucky as Tony, these less-brutal treatments give his parents hope.

Tony with the family dog, Spike. Photo courtesy of Karen Salerno.

He's still got a long road ahead of him, but with his family and doctors by his side, Tony has the best possible support.

What's more, thanks to the research that's been done on his case, many other sick kids may have an easier time recovering. That's a major win for all families going through this. It's also why Tony's dad believes this simple truth with all his heart:

"He's a success, even with all his side effects. He's a success, because he's still here."

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Cellist Cremaine Booker's performance of Faure's "Pavane" is as impressive as it is beautiful.

Music might be the closest thing the world has to real magic. Music has the ability to transform any atmosphere in seconds, simply with the sounds of a few notes. It can be simple—one instrument playing single notes like raindrops—or a complex symphony of melodies and harmonies, swirling and crashing like waves from dozens of instruments. Certain rhythms can make us spontaneously dance and certain chord progressions can make us cry.

Music is an art, a science, a language and a decidedly human endeavor. People have made music throughout history, in every culture on every continent. Over time, people have perfected the crafting of instruments and passed along the knowledge of how to play them, so every time we see someone playing music, we're seeing the history of humanity culminated in their craft. It's truly an amazing thing.

The pandemic threw a wrench into seeing live musicians for a good chunk of time, and even now, live performances are limited. Thankfully, we have technology that makes it easier for musicians to collaborate and perform with one another virtually—and also makes it easier for people to create "group" performances all by themselves.

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A round-up of delights from around the internet this week.

Hey all!

Welcome to Upworthy's weekly roundup of delights from around the internet. This week's list features a little of everything—gorgeous music, cute kids, adorable animals, hope for the planet and a brand new video message from the late and great Betty White.

That's right, Betty White left us a message of gratitude shortly before her passing. It's brief, but how lovely to see and hear her speak to her millions of fans one last time. Few celebrities are as universally beloved as Betty White was, and though we knew she couldn't live forever, it would have been fun to see her celebrate her 100th birthday. Now, at least, we get to experience her joy and warmth with a few last words.

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