IMF staff and Laughs 4 Life organizers in front of event backdrop
(From right, counterclockwise) 2nd row: IMF Patient, President & CEO Yelak Biru, IMF Senior Director of Member Events Suzanne Battaglia, Laughs 4 Life organizers Kent Oliver and Candace Oliver, IMF Assistant Director of Member Events Ilana Kenville, 1st row: Charlotte Oliver, and Annie Oliver.

On Friday, July 29, Laughs 4 Life returned to Hattiesburg, MS. This year’s successful event featured comedian Leanne Morgan and special guests, James Austin Johnson and Keith Alberstadt and was held at the Hattiesburg Saenger Theater—with over 1,000 attendees! 

The International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) is grateful to Kent Oliver, his family, and the organizers of the Laughs 4 Life Hattiesburg event for supporting organizations like the IMF. After being diagnosed with myeloma at age 34 in 2015, Kent has funded four Senior Brian D. Novis (BDN) Grants totaling over $320,000.  

Additionally, the IMF also honored another BDN Grant donor—the Barto family: Chad, his son Damon, sister Laura, and mother-in-law Barbara. In 2021, the Bartos held the Angela Dirks Barto Memorial Golf Tournament which funded a junior BDN Grant.  

The Brian D. Novis (BDN) Grant was established in 1995 to honor one of the IMF’s co-founders. The grants are awarded annually to senior and junior researchers to promote research in the field of multiple myeloma and to help improve patient outcomes. To date, the IMF has raised over $3 million and has awarded over 100 BDN Grants.  

In his speech during the Laughs 4 Life event, IMF Patient, President & CEO Yelak Biru sincerely thanked the Olivers, the Bartos, and all BDN donors for their magnanimous efforts in helping fund senior and junior BDN Grants.  

“The money for [BDN Grants] is primarily raised by the myeloma community—patients, caregivers, and their extended families. I have utmost respect and admiration for these families, and two of them are here today,” introduced Yelak.  

“Angela (Angie) Dirks Barto was diagnosed with an aggressive form of myeloma in 2017 and passed away in 2019 after several unsuccessful treatments. Chad, her husband, and Damon, her 16-year-old son, are here today. In 2021, [the Bartos] held a golf tournament and raised over 60,000 to fund a junior BDN Grant—like [what] you are doing here today, with Kent Oliver and his family. [The Bartos] had the support of countless people to make that happen. Chad and Damon are accompanied by Angie's mom, Barb, and Chad's sister, Laura, who is now Damon's [adoptive] mom. Their motto for raising funds is ‘if we can help one other family work through what we have gone through, it is worth it,’” Yelak narrated.  

Yelak extended his gratitude to the Olivers as well: “Thank you, Kent and Candace for opening your town up for the Bartos and thank you for what you have done over the last five years to support [myeloma] research. It is wonderful to see you and your event live and in action. Clearly, the community loves you, and they appreciate you giving back even [despite] your adversity.” 

“On behalf of patients like you and me, thank you for making the IMF one of the beneficiaries of Laugh 4 Life event,” said Yelak, as he ended his speech.  

Truly, Laughs 4 Life has accomplished its purposeful goal, while bringing smiles and laughter to Hattiesburg. The IMF extends its warmest gratitude to IMF Senior Director of Member Events Suzanne Battaglia and IMF Assistant Director of Member Events Ilana Kenville for all the work they put into building relationships with the myeloma patient community. 


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