Pieces to be auctioned off May 4 to aid childhood cancer research

At age 4, local artist Laszlo Kristof was diagnosed with leukemia.

“I woke up one morning and felt that something was wrong,” he said.

Worried about the swollen lymph nodes, his mother, Beti Kristof, took her son to the hospital, where he would spend the next nine months. He celebrated his fifth birthday in a hospital bed.

“Being a kid, I had no idea what was going on,” he said. “People acted like nothing was wrong. They kept their spirits up and mine.”

Family and friends visited, but his mother, also an artist, never left his side. She would stay up with him coloring and painting.

“I had my sick days when I couldn’t move, but the smiles and laughter were the best cures,” said Kristof, now 25.

At the time of Kristof’s diagnosis, the chance of survival for young children was around 70 percent, according to Lainie Strouse, a spokeswoman and event producer for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Thanks in part to the charity’s research, that number has risen to more than 95 percent, she said.

Kristof is one of a dozen artists participating in this year’s Affair of the Art auction to raise money for the Las Vegas chapter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Artists such as Kristof, Robert Wyland and Michael Godard have lent their talents to painting 5-foot-tall hearts to be auctioned off at a black-tie gala set for 6 p.m. May 4 at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, 888 W. Bonneville Ave.

Kristof’s heart sculpture is on display in Symphony Park until the auction, and he hopes children “will look at it and smile.”

“I have a stake in this, and I’m happy to give back,” Kristof said. “This is just my own perspective on the cause. There are many artists coming together to help out.”

This is the fourth year St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has put on the event locally. Strouse said the hearts have sold for as much as $25,000. Last year’s auction raised more than $350,000, a mark Strouse said will be surpassed this year.

“The research St. Jude is doing benefits the whole world,” Strouse said. “It may seem like a distant problem to some people. They may not be able to relate. But to see one of these children in front of you, to hear their story, it is clear the very direct impact peoples’ donations have.”

The arts have always been an important part in the charity’s mission, she said.

“Having someone like Laszlo involved is what St. Jude is all about,” she said. “We’re dealing with children facing life-threatening illnesses, so it is important to us to highlight the success of patients and the possibility of a long life.”

After being released from the hospital, Kristof spent the next two years in and out of doctors’ offices. Finally, at age 8, Kristof was told he had beaten leukemia. His mother threw him a party at their home. He said through all of it, his family, friends and art helped him to carry through. It is that positive outlook Kristof wanted to carry over to his work for St. Jude.

“I was thinking about being a child and that pure imagination,” he said of his heart painted in bright colors with rich textures of cactus shapes, peacock feathers and fish scales. “I imagined being that sick kid again and what I would want to see. Bright colors. Happy images.”

Beti Kristof painted a heart for auction the last two years — one of them is on display at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, de Lima campus, in the southwest valley — but now the task is handed down to her son.

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at nlister@viewnews.com or 702-383-0492.

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