School raises research funds in classmate’s honor
In 2007 when he was 11 years old, Austin Tome was diagnosed with a rare abdominal cancer. He received a multi-organ transplant, including liver, pancreas, stomach and small bowel, and underwent high-dose chemotherapy.
The cancer was in remission for a while before becoming resistant to treatment and spreading to other parts of his body. Yet despite the setbacks and throughout his treatment, Austin demonstrated an indomitable spirit for which he was honored, in 2009, with a Courage Award from Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.
Kathleen Reichert, Principal, Lakeside Junior High School, with Austin and Dr. Plautz
In March of this year, he received another honor, this time from his classmates at Lakeside Junior High School in Ashtabula, Ohio. They put on a rock-a-thon, which they dubbed “Austin Rocks!” Teams of six members each kept 20 rocking chairs in constant motion for four hours. All proceeds went to pediatric oncology research.
The event, put on by the school’s National Junior Honor Society, was no run-of-the-mill fundraiser for those who took part. “This was personal to us,” says Principal Kathleen Reichert. “Austin had great friends in the class. All along, we wanted to do something for him.”
It was important to the students that the funds they raised would mean something to children like Austin. “A lot of money goes to cancer, but not necessarily targeting pediatric cancer,” says Mrs. Reichert, who asked Kim Tome, Austin’s mother, where they should send the donation. “She immediately answered, ‘Cleveland Clinic.’ Everybody there has been so wonderful to the Tome family.”
The event, held in the school cafeteria, brought in more than $7,000, all of which went to the Pediatric Oncology Research Fund directed by Gregory Plautz, MD, Chair of the Department of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.
“We greatly appreciate the generous gift that Austin’s school raised through the rock-a-thon, which will help support research into the development of immunotherapy to treat childhood tumors,” says Dr. Plautz, who holds the Jerome and Lee Burkons Research Chair in Oncology. “Austin had a very rare type of cancer called a ‘desmoplastic small round cell tumor.’ Unfortunately, we don’t have an effective treatment for this particular disease, even though for most types of childhood cancer, we have a 70 to 80 percent cure rate.”
The Pediatric Oncology Research Fund focuses on the development of immunotherapy, which may improve outcomes for patients by supplementing current therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Dr. Plautz explains. The Burkons Chair supports this research. “As we learn more about the genetic mutations for childhood cancers, we can apply our approach to several different types of cancer, including desmoplastic round cell tumors,” Dr. Plautz says.
It’s Mrs. Reichert’s intention that her school will continue supporting pediatric cancer research through annual “Austin Rocks!” events.
“As long as I’m principal, this always will be the service project,” she promises. “I would like future generations to see the purpose of this service project and embrace it the way we have.”
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