In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

December 3, 2019

Patient’s 10-Year-Old Son Uses Birthday Money to Help Kids at Mayo Clinic

By In the Loop

When Bobby Pignati acquired a stash of cash for his birthday, he knew just where he wanted his money to go after watching his dad go through cancer treatments.


When Bobby Pignati acquired a stash of cash for his 10th birthday, his parents assumed he'd buy a video game he'd been eyeing. Instead, Bobby announced he wanted to donate the bulk of the funds to Mayo Clinic where his dad, Joe, was receiving treatment for bile duct cancer. "I wanted to do something nice for Mayo," Bobby says. The decision took his parents by surprise. "He came up with the idea all by himself," Joe tells us. "It made me really proud."

Joe and his wife, Michelle, knew writing a check or making an online donation on Bobby's behalf wouldn't give their son the same satisfaction as presenting his own gift to Mayo. Joe talked about Bobby’s desire to give back with some of the staff caring for him in the Radiation Oncology Department. A creative solution soon followed: having Bobby donate art supplies for staff to use when decorating the masks kids wear during proton therapy. "He was super excited about that," Joe says.

So were staff in the Proton Beam Therapy Program. Excited and moved. "Bobby melted my heart into a puddle of goo," Mike Hamilton, a radiation therapist who paints the masks, tells us. "I was was a kid not that long ago and I would have never even thought to donate birthday money."

Hamilton was among the staff on hand to accept Bobby's donation: dozens of paint markers that will be used to transform the sterile white masks into superheroes, sports figures or whatever the young patients choose. He included a note with his gift:

Dear kids: My dad has cancer and he just finished radiation. I thought to give these gifts. I hope you get better soon and that this makes it easier for you. From, Bobby Pignati

"The staff had a ceremony for him," Joe says. "They went above and beyond to find a solution that would satisfy a 10-year-old. Bobby was very proud of himself. He understands how the masks are used and he was happy to be able to help other kids."

Bobby's gift wasn't the only reason to celebrate that day. The donation took place on Joe's last day of radiation. Bobby, his mom and siblings all smiled and cheered as Joe rang a bell symbolizing the end of treatment. "I had to fight back tears during the bell ringing," Hamilton tells us. Though he wasn't a member of Joe's direct care team, "I know for sure he's raising some amazing children."

That includes Bobby's little sister, Sofia, who is on her way to becoming Mayo's next benefactor. "She's been doing some painting, and wants to sell her paintings to raise money to donate to Mayo," Joe says. "Like a lemonade stand, but with art." (That sounds pretty amazing to us.)

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Tags: Bile duct cancer, Patient Stories, Proton Beam Therapy Program, Radiation Oncology

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