Heroes Curing Childhood Cancer Gala Helps More Children Reach the Stars

A Celebration of Funds Raised at 2015 Heroes GalaDespite a historic snowstorm, more than 250 attendees arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel on a frigid Saturday evening for the 7th annual Heroes Curing Childhood Cancer Gala. The event raised over $726,000, more than it ever had. The funds will support cutting-edge research in the fight against childhood cancer so that children not only survive cancer, but thrive throughout their lifetime.

Dr. Kurt Newman, president and CEO of Children’s National, welcomed guests and recognized Paul Adkins, Marco Gutierrez, and Kate Kiernan—three real-life heroes who were treated at Children’s National. They are all now well on their way to becoming young, successful adults, embodying the best of the gala’s theme, “When I grow up, I will be big enough to reach the stars.”

Dr. Newman said, “Through events like the Heroes Gala, we are investing in our physician-scientists to revolutionize the way we treat cancer. It’s not enough to save lives, though of course that’s our first goal. We also need to make treatment less toxic and more precise. As survival rates increase, we have an opportunity – a responsibility – to think of the quality of children’s lives, now and long into the future.”

There were many exciting moments, including a live auction, during which items such as a week in Park City, three nights in Buenos Aires, and an adorable Labradoodle puppy were sold in a flash to the generous crowd. During the “call for cash,” bidding paddles went up in waves, and more than $100,000 was raised in less than an hour. Attendees were also moved by the story of 9-year-old Bennett Younger. Watch a video of his journey.

The crowd finished the evening by rocking to the beat of the band NYX Live. Thanks to everyone who made this monumental night possible, especially the generous sponsors, committee members, and co-chairs Diana and Stephen Goldberg and Caroline and Chris King.

View photos from the night.

Children’s National Honors Al Otaibas for Commitment to Children

prizeChildren’s National Health System has named His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the United States, and his wife, Abeer, as recipients of the second annual Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Prize in Philanthropy, created to honor families who have given back after having a personal experience with the institution.

At a Feb. 24 event celebrating philanthropy and honoring the Al Otaibas, Dr. Kurt Newman, president and CEO, said, “Few people have impacted our organization over the past decade as much as this special couple. To all of us at Children’s National, they are true friends, generous donors, influential partners, and ambassadors (literally). They have done so much to help children in Washington and throughout the world, and their impact just continues to grow.”

Ambassador Al Otaiba played a major role in establishing the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation in 2009, which has advanced surgery, pain medicine, and other innovations for children’s health. The Ambassador and Abeer co-chaired the record-breaking Children’s Ball in 2014, which raised a record $10.9 million, making it the most successful nonprofit fundraiser in Washington’s history. Both the ambassador and his wife have served as partners and advocates for children in the Washington area and around the world.

The Prize is named for philanthropist and business leader Joseph E. Robert, Jr., whose generosity and vision helped transform Children’s National into a medical and research system with international reach. His philanthropic support helped create the Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Center for Surgical Care, and he was instrumental in building support to establish the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation. The first Prize in Philanthropy was awarded to Amy and Bret Baier in 2014.

Fox5: Healing Garden a “Dream Come True” for Staff and Families

Picture2In a Fox 5 TV story about the vision for the Healing Garden at Children’s National, 10-year-old Arabelle Blalack recalled that during her treatment for leukemia at age 5, “I couldn’t really move around anywhere.” Acknowledging that she’s not very good at staying still, she said, “I love feeling the breeze, and looking at all the things in nature.” Watch the Fox 5 story.

Kathleen Gorman, chief operating officer at Children’s National, said the garden will meet the needs of children like Arabelle who need very specialized care, but also want to be outdoors. “We’re very excited. This is really a dream come true for families and staff,” Gorman said. “There’s a lot of scientific evidence behind the healing of being outside, of being in the fresh air, and not only healing, but also relieving pain for our children.” Watch the story to see what the rooftop looks like today.

Visit childrensnational.org/healinggarden for information about the garden and how you can get involved.

First Ladies Lend Support for Healing Garden

Healing Garden CN FinalOn Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama and all five living former First Ladies announced their support for a project to transform a gravel rooftop space at Children’s National Health System into a 7,200-square-foot healing garden. Currently in development, the garden will give patients and their families a healthy outdoor space where they can enjoy art, music, and inspiring views of Washington, DC. The garden will be dedicated to the First Ladies of the United States, and Mrs. Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush, Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mrs. Barbara Bush, Mrs. Nancy Reagan, and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter are serving as honorary chairs of the garden. Read more about the garden and the First Ladies’ involvement.

“I’ve seen firsthand the strength and bravery of the children and families at Children’s National as they take on incredible challenges,” Mrs. Obama said. “The new healing garden will give children and families a place where they can find peace and comfort, while also contributing to their health.”

Kurt D. Newman, MD, President and CEO, “Children’s National has been honored by our relationship with the First Ladies over the years, and their holiday visits have meant so much to children and their families. We are grateful that the First Lady and the former First Ladies are supporting this important project. It’s a fitting tribute to dedicate this inspiring space to them.”

The idea of creating a Healing Garden was inspired by a young patient whose last wish was to go outside — and by the heroic efforts of the Children’s National care team that made her wish come true. The garden will make it easier for sick children to safely go outdoors. The average stay for a child hospitalized at Children’s National is six days. Many children with serious illnesses need to stay several weeks or months.

Children’s National is working to raise $5.53 million for the project, and $1.71 million has already been raised with the leadership of Heather and Andy Florance and the employees of Andy’s company, CoStar Group.  To learn more about the garden and how you can get involved, visit childrensnational.org/healinggarden.

A Victory Bell Celebrates Healing

carlyglazier.cnmc.01262015-36After undergoing several years of treatment, 9-year-old Rylie Richards on Jan. 26 enthusiastically rang a Victory Bell at Children’s National to celebrate her victory in battling leukemia. The bell was made possible by Rylie’s friends and family, and given to Children’s National so that other children can proudly ring it once they have completed their own cancer treatment. They were inspired by a Victory Bell Rylie saw at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she was first diagnosed before her family moved to DC.

It was appropriate that Rylie was the first child to ring the bell at Children’s National, with her oncologist, Dr. Anne Angiolillo, parents, Tracie and Kelly, and brother, Evan, standing by her side. After Rylie rang it, two young boys stepped up to ring in their own victories in finishing treatment that very day.

Tracie remarked, “It is truly a gift to be able to watch those children ring the bell. That is a moment in my life I will cherish forever. Giving really is so much better than getting.”

Under the bell is a plate with special casting with this quote:
“Yours is a story so brave and so true…And life is awaiting the hero in you.
-Sunni Chapman

Watch a video clip of Rylie’s milestone moment.

“Dancing After Dark” Raises $170,000+ for Kids

DAD15 CommitteeNearly 600 guests turned out for the 8th Annual Dancing after Dark event on Jan. 24, to sip on fancy cocktails, enjoy delectable desserts, and dance with friends in support of the mission of Children’s National. Together, they raised more than $170,000, a more than 15 percent increase from last year’s event. The evening was hosted by the Junior Council, composed of young professionals, emerging community leaders, and advocates who are dedicated to supporting children’s health through fundraising and volunteering.

“The Junior Council believes in the power of philanthropy to seriously impact others’ lives,” said Clare Bonsignore, co-chair of the Founder’s Reception and former co-chair of the Junior Council. “That’s why we are thrilled to support Children’s National through this annual event. We know this will give more children the best possible chance to thrive.”

Dr. Kurt Newman, president and CEO of Children’s National, made a special appearance, as did Dr. Bear, who danced the night away with guests to the beat of the band Nightsong. Special thanks to all of the sponsors, Dancing after Dark co-chairs Elizabeth Ballas and Paul Grayson, Founder’s Reception co-chairs Clare Bonsignore and Jim McInerney, and Junior Council co-chairs LeeAnn Goheen and John Green. To view photos, visit our Flickr album.

Hockey Star Launches App to Connect and Encourage Kids

IMG_4460clownsWhen Brendan Witt was a standout defenseman for the Washington Capitals from 1996 to 2006, he was a regular visitor to Children’s National. He also had a program called “Witter’s Hitters” that gave many patients the opportunity to attend hockey games and visit the locker room to meet the players and coaches. Now retired from hockey and living in Montana, Witt was back in town on Wednesday to be honored as one of the best 40 Capitals of all time. “It’s nice to be honored,” he said, “but as soon as I knew I’d be back in Washington, I really wanted to visit Children’s National again. The children I met here meant so much to me, and I have fond memories of my visits.”

In addition to meeting and encouraging children and families, Witt also introduced a new app that he and his wife Salima have developed called Angel Mail. The app allows people to send positive thoughts and encouragement to anyone. Because of Witt’s relationship with Children’s National, he and Salima decided to donate proceeds from the app to the health system.

It was one of the children he met in the hospital who inspired him to create the app. “I’ve kept in touch with several of the children I met during my playing days, and one of them recently fell ill again,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned is that when children are sick and not feeling well, they often don’t want visitors – but they want to keep in touch with their friends and loved ones. The Angel Mail app is our way to give back to Children’s National and the children and families who have inspired us.”

Watch a video of Witt’s visit or read ESPN’s article “Brendan Witt Delivering Angel Mail.” You can download the app at the iTunes app store.

IMG_4449aUpdate: See Comcast Sportsnet’s video story, “Caps Hardcore Defenseman Shows Softer Side.”


Q&A: The Promise of T-Cell Therapy

BollardIn 2014, Children’s National treated its first patients using “T-cell therapy,” a revolutionary approach to destroying cancer cells using a patient’s own cells. Dr. Catherine Bollard, who oversees the Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy (CETI) at Children’s National, explains what makes this treatment so different – and so promising for children with cancer and other diseases.

Q. What is T-cell therapy?

A. T-cell therapy is the ultimate personalized therapy to fight dangerous viruses and cancer cells. We take blood from the patient and then “train” the T-cells to kill the cancer. Once the T-cells are ready, they are injected back into the patient, where they can travel throughout the body to seek out, find, and destroy the cancer cells.

Q. What are the biggest benefits of T-cell therapy?

A. Chemotherapy and radiation can kill cancer cells, but they also damage healthy tissues and the body’s ability to fight off infection. T-cell therapy tackles the immediate problem and also aims to protect patients for the rest of their lives.

Q. Does T-cell therapy work?

A. Yes. Cell therapies have a response rate of more than 80 percent for successfully preventing or treating life-threatening infections after bone marrow transplant. We have an astounding 50 percent disease-free survival rate at two years for some cancer patients with the poorest prognoses, including patients who have failed all other therapies.

Q. What makes Children’s National’s effort in researching T-cell therapy unique?

A. Children’s National is one of the few hospitals in the world to offer cellular therapy to treat life-threatening infections in patients with immune deficiencies, as well as preventing or treating relapse in children with cancer.

Q. What special equipment do you need to train T-cells?

A. To grow these highly specialized cells, we’ve created a state-of-the-art good manufacturing practice (GMP) facility. The new GMP unit at Children’s National is unique – it’s the only standalone GMP facility in a pediatric hospital that processes stem cells for transplant and also manufactures these novel cell therapeutics.

Q. What are your team’s future plans to advance T-cell therapy?

A. The CETI team continues to train some T-cells to fight viruses and to teach others to target cancer cells, such as leukemias and lymphomas. We are also developing cell therapies to fight any type of inflammation. For example, a study will launch this year to investigate applications for children suffering from inflammatory bowel disease. The team is also building a bank of trained T-cells, with the goal of matching and deploying them to children who can benefit. This resource will allow CETI to be a fast and viable option for all children who may need this promising new therapy.

Q. What inspired you personally to do this kind of work?

A. A friend of mine, Diana, was 17 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma. Sadly, at that time in 1985, her only treatment options were numerous rounds of highly toxic chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It took her about four years to reach a durable and complete remission. She was finally at a point when she felt she could move on and live her life.

However, tragically, only four months after marrying a wonderful man, she was diagnosed with leukemia, which was a devastating side effect from the chemotherapy and radiation she had received for her lymphoma treatment. She died at age 24, only four months after the diagnosis. At that time I made it my focus to develop new cancer therapies that would only kill the cancer cells, not the healthy cells, and that would not cause the devastating side effects that my friend suffered.

New Year, New Life for Girl with New Heart

2014 08 14 Berlin HeartDoctors, nurses, and staff at Children’s National have grown to love a young patient who waited for more than a year for a new heart. Teresa, age 2, had a heart that was structurally normal, but began failing in early 2014. Doctors kept her alive with a Berlin heart, a mechanical organ that sat atop her belly, quietly whirling and squeezing to pump blood through her system.

She was also attached to a large console that needed to be wheeled with her wherever she went. As she waited for a heart to become available for a transplant, she risked complications like stroke and pump failure. But she was an inspiration to everyone who met her. She would walk the hallways, smiling and waving to guests, sometimes offering to share her baby doll. She brought joy to the entire unit. But as days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, and no donor was found, the staff worried about how long she had left to live.

Everything changed over the December holidays, when a heart finally became available, and our cardiac intensive care team performed the urgent and complicated operation. Early Christmas morning, multiple teams rallied from around the region and within the hospital to come to the girl’s aid. It takes multiple complex teams to orchestrate a transplant. Some travel long distances to retrieve the heart, while others prepare the patient. In this case there were additional requirements for experts because she was on a pump. Clinicians left their families and rushed to the hospital to make a miracle happen.

The operation was successful! The team members were able to be part of the best holiday gift ever — the gift of life. The little girl spent a peaceful night in the cardiac intensive care unit, sleeping, with her new heart working just fine. Today, she is doing well, off the ventilator and machines, and asking for apple juice.

This happy ending would not have been possible without the bravery and persistence of the little girl and her family, the expertise and devotion of our clinical and administrative teams, the courage of the donor family to give the gift of life, and generous donors who help Children’s National provide the highest level of care.

Washington Capitals Continue Tradition with Holiday Visit

caps1The Washington Capitals continued their tradition of hospital visits on Dec. 12, making a special trip to bring holiday cheer and pass out blankets as part of the NHL’s “Hockey Fights Cancer” initiative. The visit was planned in partnership with Hope for Henry, which creates special experiences for children at Children’s National and other hospitals. Thanks to Brooks Laich, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters, and Jack Hillen, as well as alum and broadcaster Alan May, goalie coach Mitch Korn, the Red Rockers, and Slapshot. See more photos.