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Breath of Life Award Recipients

In 1991, Marc and Margarete Cassalina’s newborn son Eric was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF). Less than two years later, they welcomed their daughter, Jena, who received the same diagnosis. While Eric had few CF-related medical complications throughout his childhood, Jena’s case was considerably more severe. On December 4, 2006, at the age of 13, Jena passed away from CF-complications while waiting for a double lung transplant. Despite the pain, hardship, and emotional roller-coaster of raising two young children with an incurable disease, Margarete, and her husband Marc, always found a way to stay strong and committed to their family so that Eric and Jena could have the best quality of life possible.

Since 1991, both Margarete and Marc have been passionately involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. They have served as National Public Advocacy Chairs, National Volunteer Leadership Chairs, and National Leadership Council Members. They have served as Board members in two New York chapters and have participated in countless local, regional, and national CF events. Margarete, a prior board member of the Northeastern NY Chapter, now serves on the National Leadership Council - Special Events Committee. Marc currently serves on the National Individual Giving committee and Milestones III campaign, board member for 15 years on the Greater NY Chapter, and served as past president.

Professionally, Marc’s 30-year Financial Services career has all been at Merrill Lynch; he has served as a Senior Resident Director and is currently a Senior Vice President leading a Financial Services practice that includes his son Eric. 

Margarete is an author and public speaker. Margarete’s first award-winning book, Beyond Breathing, is a memoir written after Jena ‘moved up’ to heaven. Her second book, See You at Sunset, is a fictional narrative that brings awareness and a human-face to cystic fibrosis. In her latest offering, Embracing the Beauty in the Broken, Margarete writes about positive personal development by giving the reader tools to live their own best life.

Marc and Margarete live in Milton, NY. Their son Eric, also living with CF, is married to Kourtney with a son of their own, Easton. Together, they have dedicated their lives to finding the ultimate cure so that one day CF will stand for ‘Cure Found’.

Partners in Care Award Recipients

Dr. Maria Berdella has treated hundreds of pediatric, adolescent, and adult cystic fibrosis patients since 1993. She began her career at St. Vincent’s Hospital where she trained under Dr. Carolyn Denning, a renowned physician who pioneered the multidisciplinary model of CF care. Dr. Berdella was appointed the center’s co-director in 1998 and supplied excellent care to the CF community until the hospital closed in 2010. The center and its entire seasoned staff were then welcomed at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center. Dr. Berdella and team are now positioned to provide excellent specialized CF care in their new home at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.

During her tenure, Dr. Berdella has served as a site principal investigator (PI) for dozens of multi-center clinical trials and epidemiological studies to advance the treatment of cystic fibrosis. Most recently she was site PI for clinical trials leading up to FDA approval of Trikafta. Dr. Berdella is a member of the CF New York State Newborn Screening Consortium, working with all other CF Centers in the state and the Department of Health to ensure that newborns receive early and appropriate diagnosis. She served on the Medical Board at Saint Vincent’s Hospital and as the Research Integrity Officer for Mount Sinai Beth Israel for the past 5 years. Dr. Berdella previously served on the Greater New York Chapter Board, and is currently a member of the CF Foundation’s Therapeutic Development Network (TDN) Protocol Review Committee.

“We will continue to participate in the CF Foundation research that will expand these new treatments to those that are still waiting. It is an honor to care for so many wonderful patients and families. I am always in awe of your resilience. Thanks for allowing us to care for you and for the trust you place in us.” - Dr. B

Dr. Patricia Walker trained in Internal Medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital, followed by a fellowship in Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She was recruited back to St. Vincent’s Hospital by Dr. Carolyn Denning, famed CF pioneer, and appointed co-director of the CF Center in 1998. Dr. Walker served as co-director when the center moved to Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in 2010. Dr. Walker and team are now positioned to provide excellent specialized CF care in their new home at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.

For over 20 years, Dr. Walker has been providing interdisciplinary team management for both the medical and psychosocial needs of CF patients and their families. In addition, she has fostered
interdisciplinary research and clinical collaborations with colleagues within the field of cystic fibrosis and engaged experts in other disciplines to delve into the care and study of CF.

Dr. Walker is also a dedicated teacher – supervising the training of several hundred interns, residents, and fellows to ensure their education includes practice-based experience in CF. Graduates have become distinguished pulmonologists, nurses, CF physicians, researchers, and CF Center directors themselves. She has led or co-led numerous clinical trials as site principal investigator, including clinical trials
aimed at developing treatments for patients who are not currently eligible for treatment with elex/tez/iva or other FDA-approved CFTR modulator therapies.

Dr. Walker served on the medical board at Saint Vincent’s hospital and was Division Chief for Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine both
at Saint Vincent’s Hospital and at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center. She currently serves on the CF Foundation’s Greater New York Chapter Board and is a member of the CF Foundation’s Therapeutic Development Network (TDN) Protocol Review Committee.
Dr. Walker is grateful to her CF team members and especially to the patients and families who have allowed her to be a part of their lives.