20 Years of Kids with Courage

About 800 childhood cancer survivors and their families came together on September 29, 2013, at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells for the fifth Kids With Courage reunion.

Launched in 1993, and held every five years since then, the Kids With Courage reunion honors every child who has been treated for cancer at American Family Children’s Hospital (or the former UW Children’s Hospital)—including those who did not survive their diseases.

The emotionally moving event offers children and their families entertainment, education, and an opportunity to celebrate progress together.

Inspiring Kindness and Support

Supermodel Cindy Crawford, whose younger brother died of leukemia in 1975 at UW Children’s Hospital, is the honorary chair of Kids With Courage.

She, along with Division of Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant Chief Paul Sondel, MD, PhD, and cancer survivor Kelly Cotter, co-founded Kids With Courage in 1993.

“The initial Kids with Courage reunion reflected a concept suggested by Kelly Cotter and her mother Maury back in 1992,” Sondel recalled. “With great help from Cindy Crawford and many members of our childhood cancer research and clinical care team, the event first took place in 1993 and has become a tradition every five years since then.”

For 25 years, Cindy has made invaluable contributions of time and money to the UW Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant program. During Kids with Courage V, she visited young patients at AFCH and inspired everyone at the reunion with her kindness and support.

Tremendous Research Achievements

For Dr. Sondel, nothing is more rewarding to him as a physician-researcher as seeing so many childhood cancer survivors celebrating progress together.

The Kids With Courage event unites children and their families with the diverse members of the clinical care and research teams. It’s also a time to acknowledge how advances in care and research are providing better answers—while reminding all that there is still much more to be done to truly overcome all childhood cancers.

“We have made greater headway in curing childhood cancer than any other type of cancer over the past 30 years,” he said. “Thirty years ago, only three in 10 childhood cancer patients survived their disease, and it was uncertain if any would be cured. Today, 80 percent of all children diagnosed with cancer will be cured.”

The division Dr. Sondel leads is on the forefront of new treatments for childhood cancer. Much of that work focuses on stimulating or enhancing the immune system to fight cancer through infusion of antibodies, infusion of activated or genetically modified white blood cells (such as T cells or natural killer cells) or use of cell-signaling/activating drugs.

In September, Dr. Sondel’s research team received a $250,000 grant from Hyundai Hope on Wheels to continue research on the innovative immunotherapy treatment they helped pioneer for neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma is a difficult-to-treat cancer that affects young children. Without immunotherapy, the survival rate for high-risk neuroblastoma is less than 40 percent; the addition of immunotherapy has boosted survival by 20%.

Earlier this year, Dr. Sondel and colleagues were named to a national pediatric cancer research “Dream Team”. This “Dream Team,” a consortium of seven childhood cancer treatment/research centers, was awarded a four-year, $14 million grant to develop novel immunotherapy treatments for high-risk childhood cancers.