Mass head-shaving raises $200,000 for Children's Hospital

By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 15, 2009

The gift was simple but the message far-reaching: a multicolored scarf in a white box with a bright-pink ribbon and a button pinned on top that read, "My bald head is cuter than your bad haircut."

Emily Ringham, 11, smiled at her doctor as she presented the gift from her wheelchair at "Be Brave and Shave," an event held last Sunday to raise money to enhance cancer research and treatment at Children's National Medical Center in the District. More than 80 people had their heads shaved at Westover Shopping Center in Arlington County. The effort raised more than $200,000.

"It feels great because I know I'm not the only one that's bald," said Emily, her voice shaky from nerve damage caused by a brain tumor that doctors removed last year. A scar at the back of her head shows through her dark-brown wispy hair, which is slowly growing back.

"I like that people are raising awareness about childhood cancer because some people are sad when they get cancer," said Emily, of Bristow. "But keep in mind that they're always beautiful."

Marianna Horn, an oncologist from Children's who received Emily's gift, was one of the dozens of volunteers who shaved their heads in the hopes of raising enough money to make the hospital a comprehensive cancer center. The title requires a designation from the federal government, as well as millions of dollars. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis is the only pediatric cancer center to be given the designation by the National Cancer Institute.

Childhood cancer, Horn said, can and will be eradicated. She and others hope Children's will lead the way. They want to expand the number of children treated, the type of care they and their parents receive and the type of research being done to find a cure. They also want to enhance the way people such as Emily, who was deemed cancer-free in April, will be treated in the years after their hair grows back.

"I've taken care of a lot of kids who have lost their hair," Horn said at the event after having her goldish-brown locks shaved. "I think it came time to say 'bald is beautiful' and mean it. I want to be at their level. I want to embrace them and cure them most of all."

Max Coppes, senior vice president of hospital's Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, also shaved his head as part of the movement. "We are in the nation's capital, and we feel very strongly that we have a unique opportunity to be a resource for the city and the world," he said.

Coppes and Horn envision Children's becoming a model for how childhood cancer should be treated, which might mean opening up a network of clinics across the District, Maryland and Virginia. Coppes said he hopes the hospital will become a place where children from throughout the nation and world would come to seek state-of-the-art treatment.

Put simply, he said, he and Horn want to save as many lives as possible and teach others to do the same. The hospital treats about 220 newly diagnosed children with cancer each year. About 75 percent of those are cured, according to Jeffrey Dome, the hospital's chief of oncology.

Some of the funds raised at Sunday's event will go toward treating kids whose parents can't afford their sometimes months-long hospital stays. Children's donates about $40 million worth of care a year, Dome said.

Several other cancer survivors attended the head-shaving event. Paul Adkins, 17, of Bethesda, Kate Kiernan, 16, of Chevy Chase and William Portnoy, 11, also of Bethesda, were also treated at Children's. All have recovered and said they know exactly what the money is going toward. The three stood watch as 10 participants at a time lined up in chairs for more than two hours to have their heads shaved by volunteer professional hair stylists.

"Be Brave and Shave!" the crowded shouted as the sun illuminated the small shopping center filled with trees.

"I think this is important," said Emily, as her little sister, 9-year-old Sarah, rubbed Emily's head, lovingly patting down and softly styling Emily's hair with her small fingers. "If we don't take care of people now, there won't be any people to guide us later."

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