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Family Matters - Spring 2009

The Heart Behind the Zemel Family

The golden retriever puppy, Tori, calls for attention in the background as Nina Zemel answers the phone. It’s one of many she will receive in preparation for the upcoming Heart & Sole Annual Music Festival and Cancer Walk on Sunday, April 19, at Clear Lake High School.

For the seventh year, Brook and Nina Zemel are hosting a festival and walk to honor the life of their daughter, Jori, while raising funds for a rare pediatric bone cancer called osteosarcoma — the same disease that claimed their daughter’s life at the age of 14.

“Osteosarcoma is a disease that is in desperate need of research dollars,” says Jori’s mother, Nina. “This walk honors Jori’s life and death, and it’s what she would have wanted.”

When Jori was in treatment at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson, she had to undergo multiple rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and clinical trials. Even in the midst of her physical and emotional hardship, Jori thought of others.

“When friends or family would give Jori gifts while she was receiving treatment, Jori would say to me, ‘Mom, I really appreciate these gifts, but it would be better if we could get money donated to research instead,’” recalls Nina.

After Jori lost her battle with cancer in January 2001, the Zemel family decided to form a foundation that would raise funds for pediatric osteosarcoma research. In 2002, the Jori Zemel Children’s Bone Cancer Foundation was started.

“After Jori died, we figured we had a choice,” says Jori’s father, Brook. “Do you take that grief and channel it to something positive, or keep it inside? We decided to make something positive of it.”

Since its inception, the foundation has donated close to $370,000 to osteosarcoma research at M. D. Anderson. Much of this money is used to fund a special fellowship under the direction of Dennis Hughes, M.D., Ph.D., that focuses on pediatric bone cancer research.

In addition, the foundation created the Starr Program, which provides funds for the many practical needs that families have while receiving treatment, such as parking passes, transportation and meals.

This year’s Heart & Sole event, which starts at noon, will include a festival full of activities for the family, such as a rock climbing wall, an inflatable obstacle course, a jousting game, live music, a moonwalk, massages and more games. In addition, there will be a three-mile walk that starts at 3 p.m. from Clear Lake High School.

“I don’t like fundraising,” says Nina, “but what drives me is the hope that one day there will be a cure for pediatric cancer and other children won’t have to go through what we did.”

For more information about the event, visit www.jorizemel.com.

Upcoming Golf Tournament Supports Pediatric Bone Cancer Research

The Mike Doiron Memorial Legends of Friendswood Golf Tournament will be held on Saturday, April 18, at Timber Creek Golf Club. Funds raised from the golf tournament will benefit pediatric bone cancer research at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The Legends of Friendswood Golf Tournament began in 1990 when Mark Gill and Daren Taylor suggested a way for friends and relatives to gather for a day of fun. As the tournament grew, it became profitable and the founders decided to contribute to M. D. Anderson in support of cancer research. In 2001, when dear friend and founding player, Mike Doiron, lost his battle with cancer, the committee renamed the tournament in his honor. Contributions to M. D. Anderson over the years have totaled more than $170,000.

For more information about this year’s tournament, visit www.friendswoodlegends.org.

Pitch and Putt Funds Pediatric Research Recognized at National Conference

Patrick Zweidler-McKay, M.D., Ph.D., received $64,000 from Pitch and Putt for a Cure in 2008. From the funding, Zweidler-McKay completed a study that has been selected as a platform presentation at the 2009 American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology meeting at the end of April. His talk was one of only 20 selected nationally.

The American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology meeting is the largest national academic forum for pediatric oncologists. In addition to the platform presentation, pediatric oncology fellow from the Children’s Cancer Hospital, Maurizio Ghisoli, M.D., was one of four recipients selected for a merit award. Ghisoli is one of the lead researchers on the study that Zweidler-McKay is presenting at the conference.

Congratulations to all the donors who support Pitch and Putt for a Cure, which allowed this research to be conducted. For more information on Pitch for Putt, visit www.pitchandputtforacure.com

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