Staying Hands-on in Hope: For the Future of Pediatric Cancer Research (and Maybe a New Car)

The three members of Team Georgetown Lombardi cheer as Kevin Reilly speaks into a microphone nearby
(l to r) Helena (Ellie) Cush, Marcelo Sleiman Jr. and Joseph Piccolo represented Georgetown Lombardi at this year’s Hyundai Hands On Hope Contest. They are pictured here with Kevin Reilly, owner and president of Alexandria Hyundai, who oversees the contest on behalf of the Washington Area Hyundai Dealers. (Image: Sam Levitan)

Posted in Lombardi Stories  |  Tagged , ,

(January 26, 2024) — For 44 consecutive hours (minus a few breaks) during this year’s Washington, D.C. Auto Show, Team Georgetown Lombardi — aka Marcelo Sleiman Jr., Joseph Piccolo and Helena (Ellie) Cush — stayed in physical contact with a 2024 Hyundai IONIQ6. They were motivated by a shot at being the one to drive it home and by the chance to raise awareness for pediatric cancer research.

The Hyundai Hands On Hope contest, generously sponsored by the Washington Area Hyundai Dealers, ran January 19 to 21 and featured healthy competition between Georgetown Lombardi and Children’s National. At the conclusion of the contest period, all who had remained in contact with the car had a chance to pick a key and see if it started the vehicle. The contestant with the correct key got to keep the vehicle, and their institution received a $60,000 pediatric research grant.

This year, a contestant from Children’s National picked the winning key. But as runner-up, Georgetown Lombardi received a pediatric cancer research grant for $40,000. Together, Georgetown Lombardi and Children’s National have received more than $7 million total in pediatric research grants from Hyundai Hope on Wheels and the Washington Area Hyundai Dealers.

Meet Team Georgetown Lombardi

Ellie Cush

Helena (Ellie) Cush is a registered nurse in the Pediatric and Young Adult Hematology/Oncology Lombardi Clinic. She is passionate about pediatric nursing and loves working with children and witnessing their resilience when facing an illness like cancer. Whether it’s dancing with patients while hanging chemo or offering a lollipop of their favorite flavor to mask bad-tasting medicine, Ellie believes it’s an honor to take care of such tough kids. Ellie was inspired to participate in the Hyundai Hands On Hope competition because Georgetown Lombardi is doing such incredible research for pediatric cancers and needs the support to keep progressing toward a cure.

Ellie Cush

Joseph Piccolo

Joseph Piccolo is a first year MD/PhD student in the Tumor Biology Program at Georgetown University. Joseph is passionate about searching for ways to improve the lives of those faced with immense challenges like cancer. He hopes to one day have the privilege of helping families navigate through difficult diagnoses like pediatric cancers. Joseph was driven to participate in this competition because it seemed like a great way to spread the word about pediatric cancer research and how good-hearted local businesses can directly support Georgetown Lombardi’s efforts at helping kids with cancer.

Joe Piccolo and toy bulldog

Marcelo Sleiman Jr.

Marcelo Sleiman Jr. is a project director in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Georgetown Lombardi. He is deeply committed to making a positive difference in the lives of those at risk for and surviving with cancer, and closing the gap in health disparities among disadvantaged groups. Every day, Marcelo is inspired by his colleagues’ groundbreaking research in cancer prevention and their work supporting children and families along their cancer journey. The Hyundai Hands On Hope competition blended Marcelo’s love of cars with his dedication to serving his community, while raising awareness about the importance of pediatric cancer research. Marcelo was honored to represent Georgetown Lombardi in this year’s competition and help support the cancer center’s exceptional researchers.

Marcelo Sleiman

Scenes From This Year’s Contest

All images by Sam Levitan

The Hands On Hope contest area at the Washington, D.C. Auto Show

Team Georgetown Lombardi

Contestants had to stay in contact with the car for 44 hours.

Kevin Reilly, owner and president of Alexandria Hyundai, president of the Washington Area Hyundai Dealers and vice chair of Hyundai Hope on Wheels, spoke at the event.

Jeffrey Toretsky, MD, a pediatric oncologist whose research at Georgetown Lombardi has received funding from Hyundai Hope on Wheels, addressed those who’d gathered to see the outcome of the contest to emphasize the importance of continued support for pediatric cancer research.

Marcelo took his turn at drawing a key that might start the car.

Mitchell Haverty from Team Children’s National won the Hyundai IONIQ6.

Team Georgetown Lombardi and Jeffrey Toretsky, MD, accepted the runner-up donation to the cancer center from the Washington Area Hyundai Dealers, represented by Kevin Reilly, a longtime supporter of pediatric cancer research.

Pediatric cancer research was the true winner at this event.