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Children from the Fostertown School in Newburgh, New York
Children from the Fostertown School in Newburgh, New York – shown here at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian at a party in their honor – have been fundraising for Hope & Heroes for about three years.
When Michael Weiner, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics, came to CUMC 10 years ago to direct the newly formed Herbert Irving Child & Adolescent Oncology Center, he found a small staff and a fragmented program. Today, the practice has grown to 17 attending physicians, nurse practitioners, a nursing staff, a psychologist, child life specialists, social workers, fellows and an administrative team.

Dr. Weiner’s eye for talent brought sought-after oncologists and leading researchers to Columbia. With these additions, referrals increased and the center’s reputation grew. To expand the practice to a level of excellence equal to the caliber of care, Dr. Weiner turned to philanthropy. This was the genesis of the Hope & Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund, which has raised more than $15 million for pediatric cancer treatment and research at the center over the past decade.

One of the center’s earliest patients was Beth Maria, a vivacious teenager with Hodgkin’s disease. In 1996, she began a three-year treatment odyssey that included radiation, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Beth wasn’t only a patient, though, she was also an enthusiastic Yankees fan. When she wrote to one of her idols, first baseman Tino Martinez, telling him how much she missed the games she had attended with her dad, he invited her to a pre-game practice. The two struck up a friendship and Mr. Martinez surprised Beth with a gift – for every run he batted in, he would make a donation to Columbia’s cancer fund. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica wrote about the gift, calling his story “Hope & Heroes.” The name stuck and in 2002 the Hope & Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund was formally incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit charity whose sole mission was to support the Herbert Irving Child & Adolescent Oncology Center.

Donations to Hope & Heroes have allowed the center to undertake programs and research initiatives not possible otherwise. The Integrative Therapies Program for Children with
Michael Weiner
Cancer was the first of its kind to mainstream complementary medicine into a conventional program of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Counseling and emotional support through the Valerie Fund Psychosocial Program includes a child psychologist, child-life specialists, social workers, and clergy. The Pediatric Cancer Foundation Experimental Therapeutics Program, a clinical research endeavor, allows the department to bring bench-to-bedside discoveries and novel treatments to patients.

Hope & Heroes has forged strong relationships with patient families, several of whom have created foundations to support significant research initiatives. For example, the Wipeout Leukemia Forever Foundation has supported cutting-edge research into pediatric leukemia based at Columbia’s Institute for Cancer Genetics and led by Riccardo Dalla-Favera, M.D., professor of pathology and director of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and Adolfo Ferrando, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and assistant professor of pathology. Another family foundation, Taybandz Inc., supports the innovative work in solid tumors of Darrell Yamashiro, M.D., Irving Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and assistant professor of pathology, and Julia Glade Bender, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics.

Today, Beth Maria, 24, is studying for her master’s in education, is recently married and, most importantly, has been cancer-free for eight years. She is one of many center success stories.

Hope & Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund has been, and is, a critical component of the success of our pediatric oncology program,” Dr. Weiner says. “Without philanthropy and the generosity of our donors, corporate sponsors, patient families and board of directors, the division simply would not be able to exist at its current level of exemplary and comprehensive clinical care and research.”