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Tackle Kids Cancer

PARAMUS, NJ. This week’s PGA TOUR stop marks the kick-off event for the FedEx Cup Playoffs with THE NORTHERN TRUST event being played at The Ridgewood CC. The world’s best players will be vying for the coveted title but the ultimate winner is the designated charity for the event — Tackle Kids Cancer. The ’18 event marks the 3rd consecutive year Tackle Kids Cancer has served as the designated charity for the event. Under the auspices of Hackensack Meridian Health, much needed dollars go a long ways in assisting the lives of children and assisting their families in fighting cancer through maximizing their quality of life.

Since the first event was played in 1967 — originally called the Westchester Classic — a total of $48 million has been generated for local charities. That amount has helped raise in excess of $2.6 billion by the PGA TOUR in charitable giving.

After the last putt is sunk and the crowds have gone home, it is the tireless work carried out by various dedicated health care professionals that is making major strides in fighting the scourge of cancer. Getting an inside perspective on how such dollars are used for such a laudatory purpose is the focus of this interview.

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BACKGROUNDER / ROBERT C. GARRETT

Co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health is New Jersey’s largest health network with 16 hospitals and 450 patient care locations. Under Mr. Garrett’s visionary leadership, the network opened the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University and formed partnerships with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Carrier Clinic, a leading behavioral health provider.

THE TACKLE KIDS CANCER STORY —

Started nearly three years ago to raise money for pediatric cancer research and patient care programs occurring at the Children’s Cancer Institute at Hackensack Meridian Health.  A cornerstone to the program is our relationship with prominent sports programs – including the PGA.  Our designation as the official charity for The Northern Trust PGA TOUR Tournament provides us with a global stage to tell the need for pediatric cancer research funding through sharing the stories of our patients.

One story in particular, that of Josh Randman, is especially meaningful.  Josh was a 16-year-old high school junior when he was diagnosed with Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor, an aggressive form of cancer.  Josh underwent chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation – all in an effort to combat the ferocious disease. The summer after he was diagnosed, Josh and his brother Noah represented Tackle Kids Cancer at the Northern Trust PGA TOUR Tournament.  Serving as honorary flag holders on the 17th hole, Josh and Noah enjoyed a day on the course and had the opportunity to watch the action up close. With sorrow, Josh lost his battle this past January.

In his eulogy, Josh’s father said “Serving as an honorary flag holder was a unique experience for Josh,” his father Gary said.  “The day was so much fun, and Josh was made to feel really special.  The day allowed him to do something he never otherwise would have had the opportunity.”

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You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?

I feel extremely privileged to serve as Co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, which is truly transforming health care in New Jersey and beyond. I approach every day with this thought: How can we deliver the highest quality care, the best patient experience – and the most affordable health care for our patients? We do it by focusing on continuous improvement in quality, research and accessibility.

What was the genesis for the creation of the Tackle Kids Cancer program?

Pediatric cancer is the number one cause of death by disease in children. Yet, only four percent of government cancer funding is allocated to pediatric research. Hackensack University Medical Center is the leading pediatric cancer treatment center in New Jersey. Hackensack University Medical Center has the largest bone marrow transplant program in the tristate area, as well as the first site to offer the new CAR T-Cell immunotherapy in the state of New Jersey.

Responding to limited government research funding, and leveraging the resources of Hackensack University Medical Center, Tackle Kids Cancer began three years ago as a philanthropic campaign to engage corporations, sports teams, and the community in this important cause. Furthermore, because all of our funding stays at Hackensack Meridian Health, philanthropic dollars are not leaving the state, and we are able to serve the children in our communities.

How many children are involved at this moment?

The Children’s Cancer Institute at Hackensack Meridian Health sees nearly 100 new cancer diagnoses each year.  In addition, there are more than 200 patients in active treatment.

What distinguishes the group’s approach in dealing with such an important issue linking kids and cancer?

The Children’s Cancer Institute approach to treating a patient is unique in that our collaborative care team addresses all aspects of the child’s health, emotional well-being, educational needs, and comfort.  The interdisciplinary team includes physicians, nurses, social workers, and child life specialists.  Our team not only works with the patient to ensure he/she is receiving the highest quality treatment, but addresses the needs of the parents and siblings in coping with the illness.

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This week at Ridgewood CC is the kick-off for the FedEx Cup Playoffs via The Northern Trust event. How did the relationship between Hackensack Meridian Health and the PGA TOUR get started?

As the only PGA event in our backyard, and as the top health care organization in New Jersey, a partnership between our two organizations felt like a natural fit. This is Tackle Kids Cancer’s 3rd year as the official charity of The Northern Trust.  Hackensack Meridian Health and Tackle Kids Cancer are honored to be affiliated with such a prestigious event.  We appreciate the PGA’s commitment to giving back to the community and are grateful for their support.

What has made the relationship a win/win for all involved?

The FedEx Cup has a global audience, and allows Tackle Kids Cancer to have the stage to share our patients’ stories and the need for research funding is invaluable for our cause.  As the most philanthropic sports organization in the world, the PGA has a mission to invest into the communities in which they play.  We provide them with opportunity to give meaningfully and make a difference in the lives of children.

In what areas will the proceeds from The Northern Trust event be used?

Funds raised from Tackle Kids Cancer support the pediatric cancer research and patient care programs at the Children’s Cancer Institute at Hackensack Meridian Health.  This includes 14 open trials in the field of pediatric neurological cancer – the most devastating of diagnoses – and the new CAR T-Cell immunotherapy program, providing hope to patients with recurrent or refractory leukemia.  Funding also supports our Child Life program, providing emotional and therapeutic support to patients and their siblings.

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Photo Courtesy of Vinnie Amesse.

Given the significant gains in the science and research over the years — is it reasonable to conclude cancer can be defeated sometime in the 21st century?

We are deeply committed to this goal and I am proud of the advances made at Hackensack Meridian Health in the fight to cure cancer. Consider CAR T-Cell therapy, in which our researchers have made significant contributions to provide patients with this therapy – the biggest breakthrough in oncology in 30 years.

We are proud to have launched the Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation, a state-of-the-art facility which will offer world renowned researchers the support to develop novel therapies to treat some of the world’s most difficult diseases – cancer, diabetes, dementia, antibiotic-resistant infection and auto-immune disorders. Is it located on the campus of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University in North Jersey, which we opened in July to transform medical education and to keep more physicians in New Jersey.

What’s are the biggest challenges — short and long term facing the program?

The biggest challenge is the rising cost of research and the growing needs of families for financial and emotional support.

The greatest satisfaction in doing what you’re doing comes in what way?

That’s easy – seeing our patients thrive and knowing we are helping children and their families navigate perhaps the most challenging chapter of their lives. It is a privilege to witness their strength and courage. I am truly in awe of our pediatric cancer patients.

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For more information about Tackle Kids Cancer visit:

www.tacklekidscancer.org.

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