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University of Iowa Dance Marathon gives $1.5M for pediatric cancer professor
‘I wish there was a day where I don’t have to diagnose anybody, but we’re not there yet’
IOWA CITY — Imperative to the nationally ranked pediatric cancer care at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital are its people, and the 28-year-old student-led UI Dance Marathon on Monday made another monumental move to support them with a $1.5 million donation.
The gift — building on UI Dance Marathon’s more than $34 million in total donations over its existence — will support a pediatric cancer professor in the 14-story UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
“While we're able to support our families in various ways like covering hospital costs … we also understand that without faculty, staff, researchers, and health care workers, kids will still be diagnosed with cancer,” UI senior and Dance Marathon Executive Director Raginya Handoo said Monday during a ceremony to celebrate the gift.
Funding for the professorship will facilitate expanded research and clinical care.
“Without people treating the kids, families will still hear the words your child has cancer,” Handoo said. “The University of Iowa Dance Marathon is committed to being part of the solution in hopes that one day no parent will ever have to hear those words.”
UI Dance Marathon at its inception in 1994 was one of the founding five Dance Marathon programs in the country — and the fourth-largest Children’s Miracle Network Dance Marathon. Among its donations over the years, UI Dance Marathon has given $5 million to support construction of the new hospital, along with millions more to support the professors and doctors who provide the care and do the research inside.
The organization also has supported family parking passes; nurse training and development; student scholarships; child life fellowships; family passes to Adventure Land; a $700,000 MRI machine; cards for grieving families; and a research lab.
“We also provide gas and food vouchers for families who have to travel far away to receive treatment here,” Handoo said, noting Dance Marathon covers hospital copays and throws parties for kids celebrating birthdays while battling cancer. “If a child does pass away, UIDM does cover the funeral expenses for that family as well.”
The student organization caps every one of its fundraising years with a “Big Event” — challenging participants to not only stay awake without caffeine for 24 hours, but to stay standing for the duration to celebrate kids who’ve beat cancer; support those still fighting; and honor those who’ve died.
In its first year, the student organization raised $31,000 — an amount that’s followed an upward trajectory to its peak of more than $3 million in 2018. It’s 2019 total neared $3 million and then dipped with the pandemic in 2020 and in the two subsequent years.
Despite making last-minute changes to go completely virtual again last year, the 2022 Big Event generated $1.4 million.
To decide how to distribute all the funds raised, UI Dance Marathon uses a 15-member allocation committee made up of five Children’s Hospital officials, five Dance Marathon student executives and five representatives from five stakeholder groups — including the families served.
The hope is that by supporting both the doctors and researchers along with the pharmacy copays, wigs, electronic coloring books, food pantry items, and fingerprint necklaces, the former might eventually make the need for the latter obsolete, according to Bill Nelson, associate dean and executive director of the Iowa Memorial Union.
That’s the goal for David Dickens, interim chair of the UI Pediatric Oncology/Hematology Department and UI Dance Marathon Chair in pediatric oncology and hematology.
“I wish there was a day where I don’t have to diagnose anybody, but we’re not there yet,” Dickens said. “The best I can do now is to make sure that for every child who comes here, I can say, your child is going to be cured. Until that day happens, our work isn’t done.”
When asked what his department needs today to move them closer to that goal, he said, “We need people.”
UIHC within the last year recruited four top physicians from across the country, according to Dickens.
“And we’re looking for more,” he said.
Because more people gives each doctor more time.
“It takes time to design the right treatment protocols, to bring the right treatments here, to bring new treatments here,” he said. “Time is the most valuable asset any of us have. If it’s allocated properly, you can accomplish a lot of things.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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