Oktoberfest fundraiser putting dining and dancing to work

After losing her firefighter husband to mesothelioma in 2012, Denise Santa Barbara sees no reason for others to suffer the same. She’s throwing her annual mesothelioma fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall and, this year, it’s Oktoberfest.

From 7 p.m. to midnight, people can enjoy bratwurst, sausage and sauerkraut. Beer, wine and soda are included with the dinner by MAC’s Catering. There will be a 50/50, “Chinese” auction prizes and a popcorn machine, and DJ Donnie returns to keep things moving.

“I loved him. He’s really dynamic and energetic, gets people out there,” Santa Barbara said. “Last year, it was a whole lot of fun. It’s like a big party. Everyone is close. Everyone is having a good time.”

All proceeds benefit Penn Presbyterian in Philadelphia, where Paul Santa Barbara III was treated.

Mesothelioma is deadly and typically caused by exposure to asbestos. It occurs in the thin layer of tissue (or mesothelium) that covers most internal organs, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

“A single fiber can lay dormant in the body for years before it presents itself,” Santa Barbara said.

“Funding for mesothelioma is so slim. A lot of big drug companies don’t want to fund it because it’s a rare disease and, frankly, they say it’s not worth their effort.”

But for the thousands of people who are staring down the barrel of a fatal illness, treatment could be a lifesaver.

Santa Barbara turned her sorrow to support for the Penn Presbyterian Mesothelioma & Pleura Program.

“They were fantastic. I thought that they were one of our only hopes. They’re really committed to making mesothelioma a chronic disease, rather than a terminal disease, which it is now.”

The staff were “phenomenal” but “very down-to-earth” when treating her husband, a Navy veteran and lifelong firefighter in Wilmington, Holloway Terrace and Millville.

“I don’t want other people to go through what we went through, what I went through,” Santa Barbara said, lamenting the fact that mesothelioma has nothing to do with a poor lifestyle or unhealthy choices, and yet asbestos was known to be unsafe long before being advertised as such. “You didn’t do anything to cause it yourself.”

Santa Barbara said she believes the mesothelioma epidemic will get worse before getting better. She knows other people widowed to the disease. More people are coming out of the woodwork. Even at the gym, “a guy two treadmills over said he gets tested all the time because he was a pipefitter.”

Tickets to the Oct. 18 event cost $25 apiece. Those planning to attend are being asked to reserve seats early, to enable a head count, by calling (302) 228-9646 or emailing DeniseMSB@aol.com. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door. Checks for the tickets can be made to Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (who will make sure the money goes to the right place).

“Just come out and support it. It’s a fun event. One hundred percent of the money goes where I say it goes … to the mesothelioma research program,” Santa Barbara said. “It’s a reasonable night. It’s fun.”

The Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall is located at 35554 Atlantic Avenue in Millville. For more information on mesothelioma and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center’s research, visit www.pennmedicine.org/Mesothelioma.