SEPTEMBER 18, 2015 — As part of its national tour for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Hyundai Hope on Wheels visited Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center on September 16 to honor Scholar Hope Grant recipient Jeffrey Toretsky, MD. Many of the attendees were local children personally affected by cancer, who reveled in the opportunity to be a part of the ceremony.

EMPOWERING RESEARCHERS

As a national nonprofit backed by over 800 auto dealers, Hope on Wheels receives a portion of the proceeds for every Hyundai car sold and passes these funds along to leading scientists. Toretsky, a clinical researcher and co-leader of the molecular oncology program at Georgetown Lombardi, was presented with a $250,000 check for his research into Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer most often found in children and adolescents. He will use the funds to investigate how the cancer metastasizes, with the goal of finding an agent that will slow the disease’s progression.

“My first motivation as a doctor and scientist is to raise the standard of care for my patients. It is wonderful to have Hyundai’s support and know that they understand and share this mission,” says Toretsky. “Because there are relatively few cases of Ewing sarcoma, it can be difficult to secure funding for research. But it’s grants like these that pave the way for new discoveries, and every improvement in treatment means the world to kids with this disease.”

Toretsky is one of 36 senior researchers nationwide to receive such a grant this year.

In his opening remarks, Michael Atkins, MD, deputy director of Georgetown Lombardi, noted the organization’s long history of support to the cancer center. Hope on Wheels has provided over $1 million to Lombardi researchers since 2007 and distributed over $100 million to the fight against pediatric cancer since its founding 17 years ago.

MAKING A MARK

In addition to the check presentation, there was also a fun surprise for the youngest guests. As part of its yearly tradition, Hyundai brought one of their own cars – the perfect canvas for the kids to decorate. One by one, the children had their hands covered in their choice of paint color and then marked the white SUV with a distinctive handprint. According to Kevin Reilly, president of Alexandria Hyundai, this colorful activity carries a symbolic meaning.

“Every child has a unique handprint, and their handprint represents their unique story. We aim to celebrate each of these stories while doing everything we can to work toward a cure.”

Toretsky expressed similar sentiments to the audience, sharing his dream for the future of cancer medicine.

“One hundred years ago, doctors were trying to figure out how to cure ear infections. Then they discovered antibiotics, and now if you get an ear infection, a cure can be found at the drugstore. If researchers have the freedom to continue innovating, a hundred years from now the cure for kids with cancer will be just as simple.”

BEYOND THE LABORATORY

Though such advances may not yet be reality, there’s one tool of modern medicine that can make a real difference: compassion.

Erica DeMille knows this all too well. When her son Tyler was born, “life was great.” She never expected that several months later, he would be diagnosed with leukemia. When she first walked through the doors of Georgetown Lombardi, she felt as lost and terrified as any parent would. But right away, a doctor came over, took her hand and offered his help. Throughout Tyler’s treatment, he listened to her concerns, made her laugh and promptly responded to all her emails. His dedication to cura personalis, or care for the whole person, made the family’s ordeal a little easier.

The doctor she described was, in fact, Toretsky, and as she sang his praises, an active and cancer-free Tyler proudly snapped photos from the audience.

“This money will not only save lives, it will allow Dr. Toretsky to do for so many what he did for me and Tyler,” said DeMille. “He will be able to figuratively reach out and grab the hands of all these patients getting diagnosed with cancer and take care of them, too.”

Meghan Lasswell
GUMC Communications