Focus, Health Care, and Nonprofits

Grant funds children’s cancer research

Ada couple sees results from their donations to DeVos Children’s Hospital.

October 11, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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Milan’s Miracle Fund presented a check for $52,219 to Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children's Hospital Foundation in October to support research for children with cancer.

Milan’s Miracle Fund was founded by Philip and Sharyn Capobianco of Ada to honor the life of their daughter Milan. The 8-year-old was in the second-grade at Ada Vista Elementary when she died in 2009 after a four-year fight to survive a brainstem glioma. 

The Capobiancos, who own the Philip Anthony Salon on Lake Eastbrook Boulevard in Grand Rapids, established the fund that now supports children and families in West Michigan coping with pediatric cancers.

The team of oncologists at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is engaged in research studies to treat a variety of childhood cancers. Specifically, the grant from Milan’s Miracle Fund will support research on difused intrinsic pontine glioma, which affects the brainstem. 

One member of the team is Dr. Giselle Sholler, M.D., a Spectrum Health Medical Group member and the Haworth Endowed Director of Pediatric Oncology Innovative Therapeutics at the children’s hospital.

“We are thankful for the generous philanthropic efforts that support our work,” said Sholler. “The passion and dedication of parents across the country and their supporters, like those who support Milan’s Miracle Fund, help us to continue our work in researching treatments for children with childhood cancers.”

“The impressive work of Dr. Sholler speaks to the impact philanthropy can have on research and quality of life,” said Vicki Weaver, president, Spectrum Health Foundation and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Foundation. “We are so very thankful for the past, present and future donors who see the value of progressive research into childhood cancers.”

The funds were raised through three special events held in 2013: Milan’s Miracle Run (Milan-A-Thon 201”) on June 2 in Millennium Park; the Grand Rapids Crew Juniors Showcase, a soccer tournament held Aug. 24; and The Milan Miracle Showcase hosted by Forest Hills Northern High School Sept.14. 

A formal check presentation took place at the high school Oct. 3. In attendance were foundation representatives, physicians, students and coaches, all of whom helped in the fundraisers.

Sharyn Capobianco said the pediatric cancer research being funded at the children’s hospital began at Van Andel Institute but moved to the hospital in 2011 with Sholler when she began working there.

Capobianco said the research is now “moving quite quickly,” and is “exactly what myself and my husband had wanted to initiate back five years ago.” At that time, Milan “was still fighting to live,” she said. 

“We were frustrated,” she said. She and her husband had taken Milan to pediatric oncologists around the world, “and they all sent us home with the same message: that there was nothing they could do.”

The only treatment at the time was radiation, “which bought us time,” she said. Now the research involves testing portions of cancerous biopsies rather than tests involving the patients themselves, according to Capobianco.

Having the research done at DeVos Children’s Hospital is more practical because that is where the patients are, she added.

As noted on the Milan’s Miracle Fund website, there are more than 120 different types of pediatric brain tumors. The causes are unknown and apparently do not discriminate by gender or ethnicity. About 3,500 children are diagnosed with some form of a brain tumor every year in the United States, with 40 percent of them being fatal. Three-fourths of the victims are younger than 15. The cure rate for most brain tumors is significantly lower than for many other types of cancer. For more information, visit milansmiraclefund.org.

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