UofL medical students going bald – by choice – for kids with cancer


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A group of students at the University of Louisville School of Medicine are choosing to go bald to show their support for kids with cancer and raise funds for pediatric cancer research.

    The students will hold a St. Baldrick’s fundraiser Wednesday, Feb. 6, at noon in the Kornhauser Health Sciences Library Auditorium, located on Preston Street between East Chestnut Street and East Muhammad Ali Boulevard. This is the second year that UofL medical students have hosted a St. Baldrick’s event.

    In exchange for donations, 10 medical students will have their heads shaved completely while another five will cut their ponytails to donate hair to make wigs for children who have lost their hair as a result of cancer treatment. The foundation has matched each participant with a child battling cancer to honor at the event; some are patients at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville. The 15 students hope to raise a minimum of $5,000 and are currently taking donations for the event on their website, www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/7714/2013.

    The effort is organized nationally each year by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, founded by three reinsurance industry executives, Tim Kenny, John Bender and Enda McDonnell in New York. The first St. Baldrick’s event in a Manhattan pub was timed with St. Patrick’s Day 2000 and generated $104,000 in donations. Today, St. Baldrick’s is believed to be the largest volunteer fundraiser for childhood cancer research and second only to the federal government in the amount of funding provided to pediatric cancer researchers. Since the event’s founding, St. Baldrick’s donors and volunteers have enabled the foundation to provide over $103 million to grant recipients.

    The need is acute because less than 5 percent of federal research funding for cancer research is allocated to childhood cancers. ’There is a strong need to invest in pediatric cancer research through programs such as St. Baldrick’s,” said Ken Lucas, M.D., chief, UofL Division of Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders. “These foundations are important sources of funds for pediatric cancer research, and without their support, many novel ideas would not be explored.”

    Second-year medical student Whitney Ward of Summersville, Ky., saw the need firsthand as a volunteer at Kosair Children’s Hospital. “A lot of the kids where I volunteered have cancer,” she said. “I know the statistics: one of every five kids with cancer will die from it, and two out of three who do survive have long-term health conditions because of it.

    “So when these kids would talk about what they wanted to be when they grow up ” it was hard, wondering if they would make it. That’s why I wanted to support St. Baldrick’s.”

    Getting to know a child with cancer also motivated third-year medical student Chris Arbonies to get involved. As an undergraduate, the Louisville student played basketball for the North Carolina State University Wolfpack, where a child involved with the Make-A-Wish program became a special part of the team.“This kid had a type of brain cancer, neurofibromatosis type 1, and we (the team) adopted him, so to speak,” Arbonies said. “He had lost almost all of his vision because of the cancer, and he could no longer receive chemotherapy.

    “But the amount of strength he showed everyday was amazingly inspirational. He lost his battle after three years, but he never lost his smile. Shaving my head will just be a symbolic gesture, but the money we can raise for St. Baldrick’s will continue the research that will one day lead to a cure for a number of childhood cancers,” said Arbonies, who played as Chris McCoy at NC State.

    Arbonies wanted to get others involved as well. He approached Mike Rutherford, manager of Card Chronicle, a UofL sports blog affiliated with SB Nation. Rutherford is offering his readers – his “Chronicloids” – the chance to win two tickets to the UofL-Seton Hall game on Feb. 23 or the UofL Senior Day game against Notre Dame on March 9 by donating at least $10 to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Details on the giveaway are at www.cardchronicle.com/2013/1/24/3911998/a-card-chronicle-ticket-contest-for-a-cause.

    “I’d actually never heard of St. Baldrick’s until Chris came to me with the idea,” Rutherford said. “When he explained what it was and what he wanted to do, I was all for it. Combining Louisville sports with a good cause is always a no-brainer.”

    Other giveaways are planned as well. The students are raffling off gift cards and other prizes donated by area merchants. Drawings for each prize will be held at the Feb. 6th event and winners do not need to be present to win.

    Donating items to the raffle are Baby D’s Bagels, Baxter’s Bar & Grill, BD’s Mongolian Grill, Bluegrass Burgers, BoomBozz Pizza, Buffalo Wild Wings, Clifton Pizza & Pasta, Comedy Caravan, The Comfy Cow, Dragon King’s Daughter, El Mundo, Frankfort Avenue Beer Depot, Gigi’s Cupcakes, The Grape Leaf, Heine Brothers Coffee, J. Higgins Gallery, Lil Cheezers, La Que, Papa John’s Pizza, Paul Mitchell The School Louisville, Ramiro’s Cantina, Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina, Taco Punk, Tin Roof, U.S. Army, Wick’s Pizza Parlor and Wild and Woolly Video.

    “We are grateful to our raffle sponsors for their support,” said Tony Simms, assistant director for medical student affairs at UofL. Simms’ office is assisting the students in holding the St. Baldrick’s event. “Our students are passionate about the cause and want to make a difference, and with everyone’s help, we will do just that.”

    Passion for a cause is one thing; going bald is another. Arbonies said he does not think going bald will be a challenge. “I’ve shaved my head before so it’s not a big deal. I think for the girls who signed up, it will be a much bigger commitment.”

    Ward agrees. “I’ve never had hair shorter than shoulder length so I’m a little nervous, a little anxious,” she said. “I’ve talked to friends who have done it, and they have warned me that my head will be cold. So a lot of my friends have bought me caps to wear.

    “But it will be worth it. Seeing those kids with cancer made me realize that maybe somebody should do something – and maybe it should be me.”

    Jill Scoggins is Director of Communications at UofL's Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. She has been at UofL since 2010.