The Incomparable Leigh Dittman!

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Okay, so I’m a Shriner. Say “Shriner” to most anyone and they’ll say, “The guys with the funny hats who drive the little cars in parades?” Yes, those Shriners.

Who are the Shriners? We are a fraternity, pure and simple, which grew out of the Freemasons or the Masonic Lodge. Every Shriner is a Freemason first. Where the Shrine differs from the Masonic fraternity is mainly in philanthropy.

For the last, oh, 100 years or so, the Shriners have existed to support the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. There are 22 such hospitals nationwide with the mission to provide free health care for children with skeletal issues, orthopedic problems, cleft lip and pallet and, in the case of at least two Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, care for children who have been burned. The Shriner’s Hospitals provide the care and we Shriners raise the money for that care.

In the four years I’ve been a Shriner, I’ve met some truly amazing people, but none more special than Leigh Dittman. Leigh is a 12 year old from Tampa, FL who has, since birth, received care at the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Tampa, Florida. She is one of the most intelligent kids I’ve ever met, she has a magnetic personality, she’s driven, happy constantly and just simply amazing. No one can meet Leigh and not be positively impacted by the person she is. BTW, Leigh also has brittle bone disease. In her 12 years on earth, she’s had something like 30 surgeries and countless treatments to strengthen her bones. Leigh and I first bonded over the fact we both have metal rods implanted in our legs. When we met, when she was in 4th or 5th grade, I think it was so special for her to know an adult who has been through similar experiences and is mobile and happy. For me? I get inspired every time I talk to or text with Leigh. She is simply so positive that it’s impossible not to smile.

When Leigh was three years old, she asked people not to give her toys for her birthday, but instead asked them to donate to Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. That was nine years ago. From her simple request has grown an event held every September. Now, several hundred people come together for a HUGE party that has (thus far) raised approximately half a million bucks for Shriner’s Hospitals, all in Leigh’s name. And remember…she’s 12.

Last night, we had the privilege and honor to attend Leigh’s 9th annual birthday party/fundraiser for Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. When we left at 10 p.m., the night was still going strong, tens of thousands of dollars were still being raised and the night wasn’t even close to over! This is an amazing event put on by Leigh and her parents, Dave and Ellen Dittman.

If you’d like to know more about Leigh, or would like to donate to the cause, please visit:

If you’d like more information on becoming a Shriner, please visit:

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  • Ron Graham

    Wow! What a fantastic and driven young lady. Thanks for sharing that story about Leigh. We should all aspire to be like her.

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