Honda Indy: Toronto racer raises money for Sunnybrook

After a two-year hiatus, Toronto’s annual race, the Honda Indy, finally returns to the streets this weekend.

And among the riders who are hyper and ready to race is Devlin DeFrancesco, who was born in the city two decades ago and wants to honor the hospital that brought him to the world.

The 22-year-old rookie, ranked No. 22 in the world and making his Honda Indy debut in the NTT Indycar Series, likes to say he’s always been in a hurry.

His slogan is “born fast” – and he’s not kidding. DeFrancesco was born 15 weeks premature.

And at an event Thursday at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, DeFrancesco praised the medical team that saved him as a newborn.

“I am definitely very fortunate and fortunate to have had the Sunnybrook team around me because without them I most likely would not have been here,” he said at the event.

In a mini-documentary, DeFrancesco’s mom spoke about how her son was born incredibly early.

“He really had no chance of surviving,” she said. “The doctors even said, ‘You should have his last rites.’

He had a collapsed lung, severe cerebral hemorrhage, and weighed just one pound. He spent the first four months of his life in an incubator in the neonatal unit.

A doctor and nurse who took care of him all those years ago were at the event on Thursday.

DeFrancesco beat the odds of overcoming these complications. He was already pursuing his passion for fast driving at the age of six.

Now a professional racing driver, he uses his position to start a campaign called Racing For The Tiniest Babies to raise money for Sunnybrook.

He will match donations of up to $250,000 to the hospital’s DAN Women & Babies Program, which helps thousands of families and premature babies across Ontario, with the money also going towards the hospital’s neonatal program and its intensive care unit, which is given each year about seventy micropatients treated premature babies – like DeFrancesco – all weigh less than three pounds.

“I will always support Sunnybrook for the rest of my life,” DeFrancesco said.

As he races around the track this weekend, his car will sport the hospital’s logo. As does his racing suit and helmet, which are adorned with Sunnybrook’s name and words of encouragement.

A keyword on the side of the helmet sums it up: “Once small, always strong.”