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Suneel's Light Foundation announces return of dance-inspired charity event for Duchenne muscular dystrophy

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Sat, Oct 22nd 2016 10:40 am

"Suneel's Celebrity Gala" will feature local celebrities competing in various ballroom dance disciplines

The Suneel's Light Foundation has announced the fourth annual "Suneel's Celebrity Gala" will be held from 6-10:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, in the grand ballroom of Salvatore's Italian Gardens, 6461 Transit Road, Depew. The "Dancing with the Stars"-inspired event will feature six well-known local celebrities from across Western New York showcasing their dancing prowess in a head-to-head competition.

Tickets are $175 per person or $325 a couple.

Suneel's Light Foundation is a local nonprofit dedicated to raising funds for research that will lead to the treatment and a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), while increasing public awareness of the genetic disease.

The event will feature six personalities who have been challenged by the Suneel's Light Foundation to team up with dance professionals from one of Western New York's top dance studios to learn various ballroom disciplines and strut their best moves in the "Suneel's Celebrity Gala" charity dance competition. Performers include: Kim Piazza, host of the popular "What's the Buzz in WNY" on WBBZ TV and a well-respected local actor, director, producer, and vocalist; Jennifer "Jazzy T" Williams, radio DJ from 93.7-FM WBLK; Michael Wooten, reporter and anchor for WGRZ-TV Channel 2; Kevin Sylvester, sports media personality and a radio broadcaster for the PGA Tour, formerly of the Buffalo Sabres, and an award-winning author; Mary Sue Collins, active civic volunteer and wife of Congressman Chris Collins; and Armand Petri, nationally renowned record producer, manager and award-winning screenwriter/director.

They have all accepted the challenge and are currently training as they vie for the coveted title of "Suneel's Celebrity Gala Champion," and bragging rights around Western New York.

Prior to the competition, each celebrity is teamed up with a dance professional from Dance Like a Star with Serge, which has donated services to teach a specific discipline of ballroom dance. Each celebrity goes through weekly dance and choreography lessons with a dancing professional to master a themed performance for the competition.

The "Suneel's Celebrity Gala" will be emceed by 2014 gala dance champion Lauren Hall, multimedia journalist for the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres and Pegula Sports and Entertainment. Dancers will be judged by a combination of audience votes and special guest judges, including retired WIVB-TV Channel 4 anchor Lisa Burton, and Buffalo Zoo President/CEO Donna Fernandes - both dancing gala alumni. More celebrity judges are being added.

Local philanthropist and nationally renowned restaurateur Russell Salvatore is serving as the 2016 honorary chairman of "Suneel's Celebrity Gala." Peter M. Vito, retired commissioner of Erie County Central Police Services, and chairman and CEO of Peter M. Vito & Associates Inc., and his wife, are this year's event chairs.

In an effort to engage the greater Western New York community, and open the voting to the public, Suneel's Light Foundation has an event-specific website, suneelscelebritygala.com, featuring videos of all the stars receiving dancing lessons and chronicling their progress. Visitors to the website are encouraged to vote for their favorite celebrities leading up until the night of the gala. Each vote is $1, which allows all of Western New York and beyond to support their favorite celebrity, while bringing Suneel's Light Foundation one step closer to helping find a treatment for DMD.

The formal affair will not only consist of dancing and a star-studded competition, but will also include a gourmet, sit-down dinner, open bar and first-class auction items, including unique travel destinations, jewelry and collectables.

Tickets for the gala are available online at suneelscelebritygala.com.

For more information, call 716-243-0882 or visit www.Facebook.com/SuneelsLight.

Established in 2002, Suneel's Light is a charitable foundation whose namesake is a teenage boy from Amherst who has DMD. The foundation was established to fund critical research for treatments in search for a cure for DMD, the most lethal, genetic childhood disease, which targets young boys without regard to ethnicity, and leads to death from respiratory or heart failure. Without a breakthrough in ongoing medical research and treatment, there is little hope Suneel, and other children like him, will live to adulthood.

At present, more than 20,000 children in the U.S. suffer from this fatal disease, and more than 100,000 worldwide, with a statistically higher number of identified cases in Western New York than the national average. On average, these children succumb to this disease by their early 20s. Typically during their school-age years, in conjunction with all of the other problems surrounding this disease, they suffer from learning disabilities, social isolation and behavioral issues. 

Symptoms of DMD usually appear in male children before age 6 and may be visible in early infancy. Progressive muscle weakness of the legs and pelvis associated with a loss of muscle mass is observed first. Early signs may include pseudohypertrophy (enlargement of calf muscles), low endurance, and difficulties in standing unaided or inability to ascend stairs. By age 10, braces may be required to aide in walking, but most patients are wheelchair-dependent by age 12. Later symptoms may include abnormal bone development that leads to skeletal deformities, including curvature of the spine. Due to progressive deterioration of muscle, loss of movement occurs, eventually leading to paralysis.

For more information about Suneel's Light or DMD, visit www.suneelslight.org.

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