Kids with cancer hit the runway at Tulsa charity fashion show

It was a little boy named Cody, sick with cancer and

deathly pale, who summed up the spirit behind charity work

for supermodel and Tulsa native Amber Valletta.

In a room absent of popping flashbulbs and the murmur of

high-profile celebrities, lay a child who was dying and

what he wanted was a hug from a pretty girl.

"His little face looked up at me and he smiled and opened

his arms. I had to leave the room, it was so intense," said

Valletta, recalling the moment as she readied for

Saturday's fashion show at Dillard's in Woodland Hills

Mall.

"I came back and hugged him and he just hung onto me. He

even gave me his baseball picture," she said.

Last year Valletta, 24, persuaded executives from

fashion giant Elizabeth Arden to make an unprecedented move

and sponsor her pet charity, St. Jude Children's Research

Hospital, which provides free care and treatment to

children suffering from rare forms of cancer.

"Amber inspired us. She was the liaison for Elizabeth

Arden to get involved with St. Jude's," said Nancy McDonald,

public relations vice president for the company.

Together with Valletta, Elizabeth Arden simultaneously

launched the debut of their newest fragrance, Splendor,

this year and designed a program to raise money for the

hospital that has brought in $50,000. At each stop

along a five-city national tour ending in Tulsa, the

company has sponsored a unique "moment of Splendor" for St.

Jude's patients.

For Oklahoma patients, that moment came as they strutted

across the cat walk Saturday, beaming in their smartly

layered outfits, the strain of their battle lifted for a

moment as the audience cheered them on.

More than a dozen children from Tulsa are being treated

by St. Jude's and nearly 50 from Oklahoma, said Dr. Michael

Saba, vice president of international development for the

hospital.

"Oklahoma has been extremely supportive and very

important to us," he said.

In addition to Valletta's work, Roy Clark hosts an

annual golf tournament for St. Jude's and Garth Brooks

visits the hospital each year.

"We've even contacted Hanson," Saba said.

When the hospital was first completed in 1962, the

survival rate for cancer was about two percent, he said.

Today there is an 81 percent cure rate for leukemia and a

60 to 70 percent cure rate for all cancers in children.

"Amber has captured the hearts of the children at St.

Jude's. She's helping to save the lives of children all

over the world," Saba said.

Valletta is no stranger to the importance of cancer

research. Her mother Theresa Malaby and grandmother Mary

Willhite are both breast cancer survivors.

Though the Washington High School graduate is involved

in many charities, not to mention glamorous activities, her

work with Elizabeth Arden's program for St. Jude's patients

has touched her in a different way, she said.

"It's a hands-on project, which is a lot more enjoyable

than sending a check in the mail," said Valletta.

Meeting and touching the courageous survivors of a

ravaging disease brings meaning to the effort, she said.

"The courage of these kids and the facilities and the

research, it's incredible," Valletta said.

"All of these kids are special. They have special little

spirits. A lot of them want to grow up to be doctors so

that they can help out. These kids will lead the world and

I think that's beautiful."

Valletta has been appointed to St. Jude's professional

advisory board and has signed on to continue her

fund-raising efforts for the next three years. In March she

plans to organize a celebrity dinner in Hollywood. All

proceeds will benefit the hospital.