NEW YORK (PIX11) — The Ronald McDonald House of New York held its 30th annual gala Monday night at Pier Sixty, with a very special musical guest. 

Nine-year-old Kai Brown, who lived at the Ronald McDonald House three years ago, gave a moving piano performance to the gala’s audience, including pieces he composed himself.

His mother, Kari Coley, also spoke, explaining their journey from their home country of Panama to the Ronald McDonald House on East 73rd Street.

Coley said her son was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer at age 6, and could not get the treatment he needed in Panama. They flew to New York City for treatment at Memorial Sloane Kettering and stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. 

Before being diagnosed, Coley said Kai had just started piano lessons that had to be cut short. Once at Ronald McDonald House, she said he began playing the pianos in the house and even received free lessons from a volunteer.

“During his treatment, we’d come home from the hospital and play the piano, and just play a little bit here and there,” explained Coley. 

Kai’s cancer is now in remission, although it’s likely his cancer will be recurring. It already returned once, this past summer. 

Coley said her son uses music as therapy to find joy.

“He’s also on the autism spectrum, so communication is challenging for him,” said Coley. “Music is his therapy through cancer, but also his way of communicating.”

Money from Monday night’s gala will help the Ronald McDonald House provide shelter, food, and all the comforts of home for families like Kai’s, who need life-saving care. 

“The advantage of Ronald McDonald House is that they have a place to stay,” said RMH-NY President and CEO Dr. Ruth Browne. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to avail themselves to that life-saving treatment. And that’s what we do, and it’s a gift to be able to do that.”