The cancer-battling kids at Children’s Medical Center are such incredible troopers. Having faced daunting treatments, loss of hair and being hooked up to mobile IVs, they take it all in stride. With their families at their side, they trust the wisdom and advice of their doctors and the team of healthcare providers without hesitation.
But on Friday, September 2, a handful of the young patients were wondering if these wise professionals had gone a bit batty.
But more about that later.
With chairs in the Butterfly Atrium filled, Children’s Medical Center Foundation President Brent Christopher welcomed all to the Hyundai Hope On Wheels presentation that included area Hyundai dealers and former Children’s Medical Center Foundation President Kern Wildenthal. Brent reported how in the state of Texas, one in five children diagnosed with cancer is treated at Children’s.
Division of Pediatric Hematology-oncology chief/Dr. Stephen Skapek told of the advances that were being made at Children’s in partnership with UT Southwestern, thanks to generous financial support. Proudly he showed off his “lab coat of Hyundai” honor that he keeps hanging in his office.
Then Hyundai South Central Regional Manager Tom Hetrick told how this event “was the best part of [his] job.” Since 1998 Hyundai nationally has provided a total of $115M to pediatric cancer research. This year the goal was $13M, with $150,000 provided by local Hyundai dealers for Children’s.
This year’s contribution will support the work of Dr. Kenneth “Kenny” Chen, who gratefully thanked the Hyundai team and told how 40,000 children are annually diagnosed with pediatric cancer and one in eight will not survive. He added that “only 4% of the national cancer budget goes to childhood cancer research.” It was just four years ago that Kenny and “his colleagues at Children’s Medical turned surgically removed kidney tumors — once threats to life — into new sources of information on cancer. They sequenced the genes of dozens of tumors.” Thanks to the $150,000 grant from Hyundai, Kenny will be to build on their discoveries.
This undertaking is especially important to pediatric cancer research. The 44 genes were from Wilms tumors, “a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children under the age of five. Also known as nephroblastoma, Wilms tumor is the most common cancer of the kidneys in children. Studying mouse models and human cells. Kenny plans to investigate whether using drugs designed for adults that put microRNAs back into cells can stop or even reverse Wilms tumor cell growth.”
Kenny then introduced “the main event”: 12-year-old cancer patient Jack Maurer, who had a Wilms cancer tumor removed surgically in 2007, came to the podium. With his mother Amy Maurer smiling on the front row, the brown-haired Coppell seventh grader, whose tumor may have been one of those used in the program, briefly told the group about his stay at Children’s and thanked the Hyundai dealers for their donation. He added later, “It’s neat to think I might have been part of that. It’s like I left a legacy at the hospital that took care of me.”
Following a standing ovation, Hyundai Van General Manager George Donaldson admitted that Jack was “a tough act to follow for sure,” but he rose to the challenge saying, “This is not a day about selling cars or promoting our businesses. This is an issue that is truly at the core of who we are… We are proud to be part of this community and even more proud to have an institution like this one serving our children every day. Children are our future. They should have a chance to grow, play and learn in a world that is cancer-free. This is why we are so committed to this cause. It is for the kids.”
Following a photo session with Hyundai fellows, the Children’s team of professionals and kids all were invited upstairs to the driveway. While the adults knew what was going to happen, the kids were a bit mystified. They knew it had to do with a car and something about paint.
Once in the driveway, they spied a white Hyundai with colorful mini-hand prints. Then they were ushered to a table with bowls of paints. Once there, the adults painted the kids’ hands with the paint and had them hand-print a large piece of paper. Hmm, this was so not the usual “adult-approved” situation.
Then they were taken to the white Hyundai and told to go at it. Frisco third-grader Mackenna Rodolph was the first and laughed as she was actually urged to lay her red-painted hands on the vehicle. She was soon joined by eight-year-old Conner Sides, five-year-old Tatum Teague and Jack.
As if that wasn’t a little unusual, the kids also were pointed to hand-print Kenny’s pristine white lab coat. One kiddo looked at the adults as if to ask, “Are you serious?” But once again the adults and Dr. Chen were all beaming as the kids got handy.
The children decided that they weren’t being punked and got into the occasion, sporting colored hands and smiles. It was a day when the best cancer treatment was kids mixing it up with paint.
Still another photo session was set up with the Hyundai dealers in front of the car. But they wanted the children in the photo. As one of the dealers put it, “This is about the kids.”
As for Jack, he was destined for even more to celebrate his conquest of cancer, thanks to the Hyundai locals. They had arranged with Children’s to have Jack throw out the first pitch at Sunday’s Texas Rangers’ game against the Houston Astros to commemorate Children Cancer Awareness Month.