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Justin Swift 

This column first ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch February 27, 2006.

Head Shaving to Raise Funds for Childhood Cancer Research

Every year around this time, the five members of the Darnell family go bald.

It’s not that they have some strange seasonal allergy, or even that they just like the way it feels to go “bare up there.”  They do it to support children’s cancer research.

Adam and Tina Darnell vividly remember the events of Sept. 17, 2002.  That’s the day their oldest son, Justin Swift, was diagnosed with B-Cell Leukemia.

“He looked at me and asked, ‘Is it bad?’ and I said, ‘Yes, son, it’s pretty bad,’” Adam Darnell recalls. “Then he said to me, ‘I don’t want to die, but if I have to I know that it’s OK, because I’ll go to live with Jesus.’”

Justin’s uncommon courage and his parents’ support were important factors in helping him to overcome his encounter with cancer.  Also important was the months of chemotherapy that Justin endured.  In February 2003, Justin was declared to be in remission and on the road to good health.

All of which brings us back to the Darnells’ annual hair-razing experience.  They are among scores of St. Louis-area residents who participate in St. Baldrick’s, a head-shaving fund-raiser to benefit CureSearch Children’s Oncology Group. Adam and Tina shave their heads, as do 13-year-old Justin and his two younger brothers, Tyler and Michael.  Joining them each year is a growing collection of medical residents at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, who rotate through Cardinal Glennon as part of their residency program.

This Saturday, March 4, more than 170 men, women and children will gather at Helen Fitzgerald’s Irish Grill and Pub in Sunset Hills to shave their heads to raise money and awareness for children’s cancer research.  The event is scheduled to run from 2-8 p.m.

“We are in our third year of doing St. Baldrick’s locally, and have raised more than $165,000 in our first two years. The response and growth has really been amazing,” says Laura Wulf, a pediatric cancer nurse at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center who coordinates the local event. “We had no idea how well an event like this would do in St. Louis, but we knew it was something we wanted to do for the kids and their families.  It’s easy to be inspired and keep the event growing when you see hundreds of men, women and children going under the razor for the kids.  They have all been touched, somehow, by a child with cancer, and this event means something different to each person.”

St. Baldrick’s began six years ago in New York City when a group of young men decided to give their St. Patrick’s Day celebration a little twist and help young children diagnosed with cancer. What began as a friendly dare has become a phenomenon, raising more than $12 million in over 200 cities internationally.

Each year, more than 12,500 children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer. Almost 80 percent of the children diagnosed this year will be alive and well five years from now, but despite research progress cancer still kills more children than AIDS, asthma, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis combined.

For more information about St. Baldrick’s events, CureSearch Children’s Oncology Group, or to make a donation, visit www.stbaldricks.org or www.CureSearch.org.

 

            Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at St. Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a child health question for Dr. Wilmott, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.

 

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