MANATEE -- When they heard Eddie Livingston, a little Sarasota boy who loved Superman, died of pediatric cancer shortly after his fifth birthday a month before Christmas, a couple from East Manatee thought of their own healthy and vibrant child.
Mike and Tiffany Potillo, parents to 5-year-old Sophia Bay Potillo, who loves gymnastics and ballet, did more than just recognize their good fortune. The couple wrote a personal check for $50,000 to the cancer-fighting organization, The V Foundation, to establish a research grant in Eddie Livingston's name.
"This gift was a personal one," Mike Potillo said Monday as he, Tiffany and Sophia made their annual holiday trek by car from their State Road 64 home to Tiffany's parents' home in Kentucky.
"We have a passion for kids," Tiffany Potillo said from the passenger seat while Sophia Bay listened to music on her headphones in the back seat. "We heard about the V Foundation from listening to Dick Vitale, who raises money for it, and we wanted to help."
The deeper reason the Potillos gave so much, they said, is they believe 5-year-olds must be saved from such a complicated, grown-up disease like cancer.
"A child can never die at 5 years old from cancer," said Mike Potillo, chief sales officer for a Bradenton compa
ny called It Works! Global. "I think we all have to give what we can so that it can't happen."
"Never," Tiffany Potillo added.
At age 6, children begin to grasp concepts and ideas. But at age 5, the world is still filled with imagination. For 5-year-olds, Christmas morning is magic.
"Did Santa Claus leave a bit of his red suit on the door jamb? Are there reindeer tracks in the lawn? Let's look. Wow, what could be inside those huge gift boxes? Hey, Mom, Santa took the cookies and milk we left out. They're gone!"
At 5, words come out funny often accompanied by a scream or yell.
At 5, there is nothing as good as Silly String.
At 5, getting inside Christmas boxes is better than playing with the gifts.
At 5, giving and sharing is a big thing for the world to request that, once accomplished, fills them with incredible pride.
When they look at their daughter, the Potillos see every 5-year-old in the world.
"She's healthy. She's a free spirit," Tiffany Potillo said. "She's very loving."
As Christmas approached, Tiffany Potillo and Sophia Bay were shopping at the Publix Supermarket on State Road 64 west of Interstate 75 when Sophia saw a Salvation Army bell ringer asking for Christmas donations for her kettle.
Sophia Bay told Tiffany: "Mom, we have to give her some money."
Tiffany Potillo told her daughter she didn't have any change.
At the check-out line inside the store, Sophia Bay helped pack the groceries, which prompted the cashier to give her a quarter.
"You could put it in your piggy bank at home or give it to the Salvation Army lady for Christmas," Tiffany Potillo told her daughter.
"Yes, I want to put it in my piggy bank," Sophia Bay told her mom.
But as they walked out, Sophia Bay said: "Hold on, Mom."
"She ran over and threw her quarter in the kettle," Tiffany Potillo said. "I was one proud momma."
Sophia Bay, whose best friend is named Dulcie, wants to grow up to be a performer like Taylor Swift, one of her idols.
She hopes Santa brings her a guitar this year.
Her favorite TV show is the animated "Peppa Pig" on Nick Jr.. Her parents feel one day she will hold a concert and sing for children battling cancer, if the disease is not already eradicated.
"She loves dancing and entertaining," her mother said. "Maybe that's what destiny has for her. Maybe that's what she was meant to do."
Sophia Bay is not a typical symbol for cancer.
She has all her hair.
She has plenty of energy to play all day long. She never tires of singing and dancing.
She has just learned the neat things called giving and sharing.
She is 5.
Every kid should be her -- free from the ravages of cancer.
That's why the Potillos wrote the check.
How to help
Donations to a research grant in the memory of Eddie Livingston can be mailed to The V Foundation, 106 Towerview Court, Cary, N.C. 27513. Reference Eddie Livingston on the check. To donate online: jimmyv.org/eddie. To donate by phone: 1-800-4jimmyV and reference Eddie Livingston. Dick Vitale will announce the amount raised for the Livingston grant May 16 at the 2014 Dick Vitale Gala honoring The V Foundation in Sarasota.
Information: Mary Kenealy Events, 941-350-0580.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.