Young Dittman gives back to her hospital

When Deborah Vallejo first met Leigh Dittman, she was immediately inspired.

“She’s an awesome little girl,” said Vallejo, a volunteer with the Krewe of Augustina, a group of female volunteers who support women’s and children’s causes. “She has more presence than most people in their 30s.”

Leigh Dittman, a 10-year-old patient of Shiners’ Hospital for Children, located on the USF campus, hosted 600 guests during a fundraising event Saturday – her seventh for the hospital.

“(I hope) people will donate what their hearts want to,” said Leigh Dittman, who was excited about the success of the event. “It all goes to helping others.”

Leigh Dittman began helping others at the early age of three, asking for donations to the hospital in lieu of presents for herself. To date, she has raised more than $260,000 through fundraisers.

“I feel really proud that I’m making such a big difference,” she said. “Others are even following my footsteps.”

Leigh Dittman was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that causes bones to easily break. Since birth, she has been a patient of the hospital, where she and other children receive free medical treatment for orthopedic disorders.

Volunteers like Vallejo, who sold raffle tickets at the fundraiser, showed support for Leigh Dittman’s cause and helped manage the event, which occurred in a teal and white balloon-decked hall of the India Cultural Center.

Baskets, filled with items like Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ gear, were up for bid until 8 p.m. Silent and live auctions also took place.

Ellen Dittman, Leigh’s mother, said they will not know how much money was raised during the event for a couple of weeks because of the counting and collecting processes.

“It’s amazing,” David Dittman, Leigh’s father, said of the turnout. “We started out raising $5,000 in our backyard … Now, we average about $45,000 a year.”

After an event filled with celebration, Ellen Dittman said they can’t wait until next year’s celebration, which is scheduled for Sept. 17.

“We’ve already started planning a few months ago,” she said. “We’re excited.”