Cristian Rivera was only six-years-old when he lost his life to diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). Cristian’s father, John “Gungie” Rivera, founded the Cristian Rivera Foundation (CRF) to fund DIPG research in his memory. He has since created an incredible network of dedicated Board members, committee members, and community supporters.

Most recently, Darlene Rodriguez, Cristian Rivera Foundation Board of Director and anchor on NBC’s Today in New York, paid a special visit to Weill Cornell Medicine to present Dr. Mark Souweidane with an overwhelming gift: a check for $350,000.

The donation was largely enabled by the tremendous success of the 13th Annual Cristian Rivera Foundation Celebrity Gala, held last month at NYC’s Capitale and attended by more than 500 guests. This gift was a huge milestone for the nonprofit, breaking its own record as the largest single donation made by the organization. It was also the largest single donation ever made to the lab’s DIPG research fund, from any source.

Music producer and promoter John Rivera has been raising money to find a cure for DIPG ever since he lost his son Cristian to the rare and uniformly fatal brain stem tumor in 2009. Driven to support the work of Dr. Souweidane, who had treated his son, John Rivera created the Cristian Rivera Foundation and in 2011 became the very first donor to Dr. Souweidane’s dedicated DIPG research fund.

DIPG is rare, affecting fewer than 300 kids a year, but the prognosis is extremely grim—survival time is measured in months, and there has been no significant decrease in the mortality rate in more than 30 years. Rivera knew he could DO SOMETHING to help change these statistics by leveraging his experience in the entertainment industry. He hosts an annual star-studded gala in New York City that has outgrown several venues through the years as support for it expands. Attendance and fundraising hit another record-breaking high at the 13th Annual CRF Celebrity Gala, which was held on November 16th.

“Thankfully, I am not alone on this journey,” Rivera said recently. “I have a tremendous board and event committee, including Melinda Cox, Darlene Rodriguez, Rena Kliot, Jarrad Seuferling, Rafael Toro, Luis Guzman, and Kenan Thompson, who always show up for this cause because they know how important it is. If it weren’t for this foundation, the work simply wouldn’t get funded, and that keeps us going.”

Dr. Souweidane is profoundly grateful to have the support of the Cristian Rivera Foundation (CRF), which helps him continue his extremely personal mission. “Very early in my career, I met a young boy with DIPG and there was nothing I could do at the time to help. No surgical options,” said Souweidane. “I knew then and there that I would make it my life’s work to find alternative ways to cure this tumor through groundbreaking surgical approaches, and I promise you that we are making inroads thanks to people like John and his team.”

The Cristian Rivera Foundation has already donated close to $2 million to Dr. Souweidane over the years. Please consider donating to the Cristian Rivera Foundation, and be sure to save the date for the 14th annual CRF gala planned for November 15th, 2023, at Capitale. The event is sure to be bigger and better than ever, thanks to John and his dedicated board and committee.

To learn more about how CRF is doing something, visit

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