But 10 months later, in August 2021, Giovanni relapsed. He eventually needed a bone marrow transplant, which meant he and his family spent a lot of time in the hospital.
Like many other patients receiving cancer care, Giovanni and his family got to take their minds off cancer treatment, thanks to activities and gifts provided by MD Anderson’s generous supporters, including Harrison’s Heroes, an organization co-founded by Shanoop and Sandy Kothari.
A personal mission to support childhood cancer patients and their families
The Kotharis co-founded Harrison’s Heroes in 2015, after losing their son, Harrison, to an arachnoid cyst at age 2. Harrison spent close to 90 days in a local hospital, where he received care for the cerebrospinal fluid-filled sac identified as a developmental abnormality in the brain and spinal cord.
“When Harrison was going through treatment, the hospital had very little programming and activities available to keep him occupied and distracted,” recalls Sandy, who has made it a personal mission to improve the lives of other childhood cancer patients and their families, including those receiving care at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital.
Making hospital stays more comfortable — and fun
Based in Houston, Harrison’s Heroes supports long-term hospitalized pediatric and adolescent patients through creative programming and services. For patients undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, the foundation started with small but much-needed items, such as providing lunch to on-site camps at the hospital, to make the hospital more comfortable for young patients and their families. Over the years, the foundation has donated Easter baskets, superhero capes for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, books, hats, socks and blankets.
Most recently, the foundation’s philanthropic support has expanded to include creating parties; decorating cookies; funding Thanksgiving meals for patients, their families and staff; providing activity bags to welcome patients like Giovanni at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital and the Proton Therapy Center; delivering gifts and toys for Santa’s Workshop; and bringing in local talent for the hospital’s annual Halloween event.
Finding unique ways to support childhood cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic
Nicole Rosburg, manager of Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Life at MD Anderson, and her team work closely with Harrison’s Heroes and other supporters to organize activities and events. Many activities and events are supported either by direct donor funding or donor-provided resources.
“Harrison’s Heroes does its fair share of donating gifts, toys and other goodies, but what is special about them is that they are always looking for unique activities and products to gift to the hospital to improve the patient experience,” Rosburg says. “In fact, the virtual environment due to COVID-19 restrictions has provided more opportunities for this group to become more actively involved with our patients.”
Early in the pandemic, the foundation donated 350 Playtime Therapy sheet sets for the inpatient beds. The bedsheets were designed with 60 fun interactive games. Patients can draw on the sheets using washable markers and interactive game pieces.
“Giovanni loved the bright colors and activities on the sheets. It really kept him engaged, especially when he wasn’t well enough to move around,” says Fereshta Jabarkhail, Giovanni’s mom.
Other items donated by the foundation include customized items in birthday boxes for patients to decorate their hospital rooms and a gift of 70 Medi Teddys. These stuffed teddy bears cover patients’ IV bags. They are designed to bring comfort and reduce anxiety for children.
Donors make a difference in childhood cancer patients’ lives
When community organizations give their time and resources to support MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital patients, it can bring variety to pediatric patients’ days. Plus, Rosburg says, patients have such amazing experiences that they don’t feel like they are missing out on normal events and celebrations.
Giovanni, who relapsed five days before his birthday, got to celebrate turning 5 with a party at the hospital. “Being able to celebrate birthday milestones and having medical play opportunities like the Playtime Therapy sheets and Medi Teddys were a fun distraction for Giovanni as he went through treatment,” Jabarkhail says.
Learn how you can donate to MD Anderson Children's Hospital by calling 713-792-3450 or by emailing Giving@MDAnderson.org.