Cunha Foundation will help with medical expenses for children with life-threatening conditions

Cunha Foundation will help with medical expenses for children with life-threatening conditions

Stand-up comic Mike Murray, of Johnston, above, delights a capacity crowd at the Elks Lodge on Friday. The Elks Lodge hosted a fundraiser for the David Cunha Foundation, featuring the Martone Brothers and four stand-up comedians. (Valley Breeze & Observer photos by David Wuerth)

SMITHFIELD - A day after 21-year-old David Cunha passed away, his parents Cheryl and Peter Cunha decided to start a foundation in his name to help families with medical expenses for children living with life-threatening conditions.

David, a 2012 graduate of Smithfield High School, was born with a heart defect, what his mother called "transposition of the left single ventricle." Growing up, he had multiple open heart surgeries.

But Cunha told The Valley Breeze & Observer that she didn't want to create a foundation just for children with heart problems.

"I don't believe that the heart problem that he had took his life," Cunha said. "I think there was something else that might have happened," adding that she thinks it was neurological. Maybe a stroke or an aneurysm.

Her son passed away in his sleep on Jan. 12, 2015, just six days after his grandmother passed away on Jan. 6, she said.

"David was the type of boy where he kind of blended (in)," Cunha said. "He never treated himself as being disabled."

He was diagnosed at four days old and had his first surgery at 10 days old, Cunha said, adding that he got a pacemaker when he was 5 years old.

"They never said he's not going to live a long life," Cunha said, adding that people with David's condition are in their 30s and 40s and are "still okay."

A junior at Rhode Island College, David was very involved in community service, volunteering for the Matty Fund, A Wish Come True, Special Olympics, Best Buddies, and Providence Back to School Celebration.

"I always pushed him to be the better person, to always make sure that you help others," Cunha said. "We knew that when we decided to do this, he would definitely want us to do something. This foundation is going to keep his spirit and his love alive."

Though Cunha noted that the David Louis Cunha Foundation isn't fully up and running yet, members of the board decided to host their first fundraiser, a Funny 4 Funds comedy night hosted by local comedians Bill Simas and Mike Murray, last Friday night.

The plan was to do something fun because, Cunha said, "the past few months have not been that."

The night featured comedy, an auction, and raffles. Family, friends, and Smithfield residents showed up to support the cause.

Cunha said that 360 tickets were sold and $18,700 was raised by the end of the night.

In the near future, Cunha added, more details about the foundation will be announced, including where to get an application for a grant.

Cunha said that she thinks the next fundraiser will be held in the fall.

For families who have children with medical conditions, "the way medical is now, copays are (through) the roof," Cunha said, adding that the foundation's goal is to defray costs for families statewide, not just in Smithfield.

In addition to helping families with medical costs, Cunha said that board members are considering creating a scholarship to give to a Smithfield High School student who displays outstanding community service.

A National Honors Society student, David served as a senate page for the past six years for state Senator Stephen Archambault and former Senator John Tassoni.

He also served as an intern for General Treasurer Frank Caprio.

"He definitely was loved," Cunha said. "He is sadly missed."

Comedians kept the capacity crowd at the Elks Lodge laughing throughout the evening. The event raised almost $19,000.
Peter Perry, of Cranston, foreground, sells raffle tickets as Rick, left, and Jack Martone entertain the large crowd.