Impact of Giving

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Todd Herst

Donor Stories

Patient Helps Fund New Cancer Treatment

Twenty-four-year-old Todd Herst is feeling great these days. “I’m back going to the gym. I’m walking a lot, and have hit the golf course a few times already. I feel really good.”

It’s hard to imagine that this active, recent college graduate who is now a business consultant, was faced with having his right leg amputated just months ago. 

Herst was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer, after he visited a doctor for what he thought was a routine sports injury to his knee. He has now completed four rounds of chemotherapy, all of his radiation treatments, and underwent surgery in August 2009.

“I was in and out of the hospital throughout the month of August,” he says after dealing with some unexpected complications. “When you look at the situation, it’s easy to get discouraged.”

Course of Action
But Herst chose another route to deal with his circumstances. As he laid in his hospital bed, he had the opportunity to learn about the research efforts of several of his doctors including James Nachman, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Clinical Programs, and decided to take action.

“I had family and friends asking me what they could do to help in my recovery, but I didn’t need their money or any other monetary items,” he says. But he knew the doctors could benefit from those funds to support their research. So Herst, an avid golfer, decided that he would host a golf outing.

The inaugural “Tee Off with Todd,” golf invitational and silent auction was organized just one month after his release from the hospital and garnered $135,000, drastically more than his $10,000 goal.

“I was shocked, but it just seemed like the right thing to do and a lot of good came from the event,” Herst says. “Dr. Nachman really reached out to me. So many doctors at Comer Children’s Hospital are involved in cutting-edge research that not only impacts me but hundreds of other patients.”

Exploring Cancer Treatments
Through Nachman’s recommendation, Herst and his family partnered with Little Heroes Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to discover a cure for neuroblastoma—a common pediatric cancer—to support a project led by Susan Cohn, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and an internationally known neuroblastoma expert, and Stephen Skapek, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, who specializes in caring for children with sarcoma. 

Skapek and his team are exploring whether or not there are any genetic differences between cancer cells that are completely destroyed by chemotherapy versus cancer cells that are destroyed, but later return.

With the help of Professor Kevin White, PhD, Director, Institute for Genomics & Systems Biology at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, all of the genetic materials in the cancer cells will be tested to identify mutations that are present in the cells that were not killed by chemotherapy. “We think that this will provide us with some clue about why the cells were not destroyed,” Skapek says. “With this type of analysis, it may point us toward a new target for drug treatment.

“To my knowledge, no one has ever tried such an approach with this type of experimental model. If our results look promising, this project will lay the foundation for additional research exploiting the genetic differences. Data from this type of pilot project is critical when seeking larger grants from agencies like the NIH to support future work.”

Funding received from Hersts golf outing will allow Skapek and his team to spend six months to a year gathering pilot data, which will pave the way for continued research with these and other types of cancer cells.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Todd and his family for doing this,” Skapek says. “I think it’s just remarkable that he took this on in the midst of getting his treatment. It’s just heroic.”

For more information about pediatric cancer research, contact Callie Johnston at (773) 834-1261.

 

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