Reading is among fourth-grader Sophia Espiritus’s favorite pastimes.
She’ll read anything from school library books to food blogs from restaurateurs like David Chang. And she has much of the Harry Potter book series memorized.
“You ask her about anything about Harry Potter and she’ll tell you what book it comes from,” said Sophia’s mother, Melody, smiling.
But above all, Sophia loves the feeling of giving back to others.
For her 10th birthday party, instead of asking for a subscription to a food magazine, or a Harry Potter-related present, she had something bigger in mind, something that could help others. Others like her.
She celebrated her birthday on Dec. 5 at Stony Brook Medicine’s Cancer Center — by supporting fellow patients through $13,000 worth of fundraising efforts.
Her journey began back in March, when Sophia was diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer called Langerhans Cell Histiocytos (LCH) that causes lesions to form in many places in the body.
Sophia’s lesion was found in her brain, and she immediately began chemotherapy.
While undergoing treatment, she received a mediport in her chest, which helps doctor with an easier access point to administer drugs and draw blood samples.
According to pediatric oncologist Dr. Laura Hogan, there is currently no evidence of the disease in Sophia any longer, but she still needs to undergo weekly treatments until June.
To make the process easier for her child, Melody and her husband Roger began researching ways they could help.
That’s when the Holbrook couple stumbled upon a website that sold cozy sweaters for cancer patients from a company called ComfyChemo.
“With these shirts you don’t have to take off your shirt,” explained Sophia. “You just have to use the zipper.”
While enjoying her soft, pink-colored ComfyChemo shirt, Sophia took notice that she was one of the only young patients to have such a sweater.
That’s when she decided to forgo birthday presents to raise money for other children to have ComfyChemo shirts.
“I really just wanted to help other kids and help make their treatments easier,” said Sophia.
At first, the family decided that 30 sweaters, which cost $18 each, would be an attainable goal. So they got started.
The Espiritus quickly created a flyer to help promote’s Sophia’s birthday wish, which they planned to circulate to family and close friends.
That was until Sophia showed her school nurse at Tamarac Elementary School in Holtsville, with whom she visits with daily at school.
“I figured everyone on our staff would buy at least one shirt,” said nurse Bernadette Murray, who began game planning ideas to help.
First, Murray told principal Michael Saidens of the fundraiser.
Sophia then met with her principal. He assisted her in making a video to promote the cause and her new goal: 100 shirts.
The video went viral — even reaching New York Islanders captain Anders Lee and Islanders fan favorite Matt Martin. See video below.
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“When Matt heard about Sophia’s story, he knew right away this was a cause the Matt Martin Foundation wanted to get behind,” said Rachel Schwartz of the Matt Martin Foundation. “Anders saw Sophia’s video that was shared on the foundation social pages and just as Matt did, he jumped on the opportunity to support her mission.”
Together, the two fronted enough money to purchase the 100 shirts.
But Sophia kept busy as well. Altogether, in three weeks of raising funds, some $12,800 was raised, enough for 700-plus shirts.
“I just can’t believe how many shirts I was able to get,” Sophia told GreaterPortJeff. “It makes me feel really good and proud of my fundraiser.”
the birthday party
With Stony Brook’s Cancer Center lobby adorned in Harry Potter decorations, Sophia’s family, nurse Murray, and principal Saidens all gathered to mark their accomplishments — and Sophia’s special birthday.
While wearing her own ComfyChemo shirt, Sophia began opening the boxes that filled the room and began passing out the shirts. One of the first patients to receive a shirt was 3-year-old John Willet, who is currently going through treatments.
“He was shy, but he will be really happy when he gets to put it on,” said his mother, Angelique. “His favorite color is blue.”
The hospital ordered a variety of colors, and different sizes ranging from toddler sizes to young adult.
According to Stony Brook, the center typically holds about 60 children at once, so they will have a surplus of shirts for upcoming patients.
Stony Brook’s staff was in awe of Sophia’s charitable work.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” said one of the child life specialists, Lauren Sharab, who has worked at Stony Brook for 11 years. “We have a lot of donors who give toys and gifts. This is extra special; its not only help kids, but helps staff by making the treatment process easier.”
And her family couldn’t be more proud.
“She is a brave little girl,” said her mother. “Very smart, and she has that selflessness and kind heart.”
Scroll down to see photos from Sophia’s birthday day. (Credit: Nicholas Esposito)