When 26-month-old Maeve McNicholas died in July 2004, only a day and a half after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, her parents, Matt and Denise, were understandably devastated. Turning that tragedy into hope for other children, they now are honoring their daughter through supporting research at Children's — research that may one day lead to a cure for this disease.
The Maeve McNicholas Memorial Foundation, an affiliated organization of our hospital, has raised $167,000 to fund brain tumor research, supporting the work of investigator Marcelo Bento Soares, PhD, director of the Cancer Biology and Epigenomics Program at Children's Research Center and director of research of the Falk Brain Tumor Center at Children's. Soares is the Rachelle and Mark Gordon Endowed Professor in Cancer Biology and Epigenomics. His focus is on uncovering the molecular signatures of pediatric brain tumors to predict how they will respond to treatment. The foundation also supports the work of researcher Fabricio F. Costa, PhD, the first Maeve Foundation Scholar in Cancer Biology and Epigenomics.
“Treating a child is important, of course, but research is where it all starts,” says Matt. “If we can find out what causes brain tumors, we can find ways to eliminate them.”
The foundation's main fundraising event, Play for Maeve, takes place each summer at Beverly Park in Chicago's south side Beverly neighborhood. Some 1,800 neighborhood residents participated in the 2007 fundraiser, a family-oriented event with activities and games for children in addition to food, music, raffles and a silent auction. “It's like a big reunion for people in the neighborhood who haven't seen each other in a while,” says Matt.
The first Play for Maeve event was organized in 2005 at the suggestion of family friends to raise money to renovate a play lot in the park, which was named the Maeve McNicholas Play Lot.
The decision to support Children's the following year was largely the result of a meeting between Matt, Denise and Eleanor Evangelides. Eleanor and her husband, Mike, started the Gus Foundation in 1995 to honor their son, Gus, who died of a brain tumor when he was only 21 months old. Over its 12 years as an affiliated organization of Children's, the Gus Foundation raised more than $4 million in support of brain tumor research and programs at the hospital. The Foundation disbanded in 2007, and its legacy continues through the efforts of the Young Associates Board, an affiliated organization that began as the junior board of the Gus Foundation.
Eleanor, a member of our Foundation Board of Directors (Mike is a former member), helped coordinate the McNicholas family's initial tour of Children's. Matt and Denise were so impressed by what they saw that they decided to direct their foundation's future fundraising efforts to the hospital.
“It's so important to support children's hospitals, because children come into this world to live long, healthy lives,” says Matt, also the father of 3-year-old twins Billy and Nora, 2-year-old J.J. and 5-month-old Matt. “There's nothing as important as ensuring the health of a child.”