Moving the Needle of Care in a Significant Way

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The impact the funds raised by Big Slick for Children’s Mercy cannot be measured in dollars alone. It’s creating a legacy to last for generations to come.

Big Slick photos courtesy of Children’s Mercy

Someone once noted an idea is worthless until you get it out of your head and see what it can do. Had actor Rob Riggle, who calls Kansas City home, not given a voice to his idea over a decade ago, he never would have found himself in a position to see that idea take flight. And once that idea took flight, it turned to its landing gear to begin its locally-grown adventure on creating a hometown legacy that promises to positively affect people for generations to come. We are talking about Big Slick here. Sure, we all know this event for its celebrity status where Riggle and other hometown notables including Paul Rudd, Eric Stonestreet, Jason Sudeikis, and David Koechner descend upon the city for a weekend each June along with a star-studded list of celebrity friends to promote their celebrated fundraiser for Children’s Mercy. But again, this highly-anticipated weekend-long extravaganza never would have filled our social calendars until that one single idea spread its wings.

“Rob, myself and my husband Mark were all sitting on the dock by my parents’ home at the Lake of the Ozarks when this idea came to him,” recalled Julie McKee, Riggle’s sister, who explained Riggle had a prior opportunity to visit Children’s Mercy and, impressed by the work being done there, felt compelled to do something for the hospital. So, what began as a small poker tournament in 2010 with hosts Riggle, Rudd and Sudeikis, along with a few other high-profile friends, has transformed into a powerhouse of a weekend fundraiser to which Kansas City looks forward every June.

To date, this annual, star-studded celebrity event has raised over $8 million, all of which has been donated to Children’s Mercy. In addition to the money donated, Big Slick has cast a bright spotlight on the hospital which, in turn, has generated the ability to attract top researchers who are now being heralded at the national level for all the work they have accomplished – and continue to accomplish – at the Cancer Center at Children’s Mercy.

It is the express mission of this cancer center to help improve the physical and emotional well-being of children and its pediatric oncologists, specialists and researchers are wholly committed to conducting ongoing research in an effort to develop new and more effective treatments for childhood cancer. The cancer center provides advanced treatment for children with cancer, which includes brain tumors, leukemia, lymphoma, solid tumors, bone and soft tissue tumors, histiocytic diseases and vascular tumors. Big Slick dollars are not just a donation; they are a huge part of making a difference in the ongoing research that promises a brighter future for pediatric cancer patients.

Among the many things Big Slick dollars enabled the hospital to do included the expansion of the hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplant wing, as well as provide amenities for parents and families, such as a laundry room, small kitchen, and entertainment systems with DVD players and video games for every room.

Dr Michael Artman (center) with the Big Slick crew.

Children’s Mercy: Offering a Sincere Debt of Gratitude for the Opportunity to Pursue Advances in Research and State-of-the-Art Therapies and Technologies

Dr. Michael Artman, Senior Vice President and Pediatrician-in-Chief/Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Mercy is extremely grateful for all of the donations that have poured in from Big Slick.

“It’s been really remarkable the support they’ve provided,” noted Dr. Artman. “Their generosity has allowed us, for example, to expand our bone marrow transplant unit from five beds to 17 beds, which is one of the first big things we were able to do because of Big Slick.”

Dr. Artman further emphasized how the donations have enabled the hospital to build and transform its cancer biology research program, thereby attracting additional talent in basic cancer research. Today and in the future, it is their goal to help continue to improve upon outcomes for young patients.

“Sadly, children still die, and that is not acceptable,” reflected Artman. “It is so difficult for us when we lose a patient, but it is the research that keeps us going. In fact, the survival rate for acute leukemia in the 1960s and 1970s was just 10%. Today, that has completely flipped. Over 90% of kids survive acute leukemia and are cured. This is not by happenstance but by cancer research and clinical trials to help us understand the best combination of drugs and new therapies. The future is so incredibly bright for these kids and there are so many happy days ahead.”

Dr. Artman expressed a debt of gratitude to the Big Slick folks and their families, who all work tirelessly year-round to bring this annual event to fruition.

“They are just amazing and have allowed us to move the needle in a big way, bringing precision medicine for cancer patients and other patients as well,” smiled Dr. Artman, who noted they are looking at other areas of important need, too. “Philanthropic support for hospitals is necessary to allow for the growth and expansion of our footprint in pediatric cancer research, which helps us continue to improve and provide care for kids in the region.”

Even though Children’s Mercy is recognized as one of the Top 20 Children’s Hospitals in the country, with a goal of landing among the top five in the next decade, Dr. Artman explained it’s not just about the spotlight.

“It is not about the rankings alone,” he commented. “It does, however, reflect the excellence in clinical care, research, education and training of experts in pediatric research.”

Charity Begins at Home

“Unfortunately, there is not been enough money dedicated to pediatric cancer research as there has been for adults,” indicated Jenea Oliver, Senior Vice President of Philanthropy at Children’s Mercy. “And that is because there are more adults with cancer than there are kids with cancer. Now, thanks to Big Slick donations, we are in a position to become leaders in pediatric cancer research. Every cancer patient we have gets DNA-sequenced, and thanks to Big Slick and other donors, we have a world-class pediatric genomics center right here in Kansas City. Every cancer and every tumor these kids have are linked to databases to allow us to find the best treatment for each individual patient with the right dosage in the right amount and at the right time. If your child has cancer, you would want the best treatment with the best outcome, but because every child is different, your child might not have the best outcome with a one-size-fits all approach typically applied. Then, it becomes more of a case of trial and error. At Children’s Mercy, we want to eliminate that trial and error scenario.”

While the research at Children’s Mercy is in the infancy stages now, what they are doing here in Kansas City is cutting edge, and because of Big Slick dollars, this can be done for every oncology patient.

“Research is hopeful, but we still have a long way to go,” noted Oliver. “But Big Slick is providing that hope, and our researchers are doing this work so kids who come here tomorrow have better outcomes than those who came yesterday.”

Look Out! The Biggest and Slickest is Yet to Come!

When Big Slick comes to town, it’s not a duty that calls this team, but a privilege instead. The hosts of this event, their families, friends and volunteers faithfully and generously use their gifts and talents to create and oversee this annual fundraiser in order to bring hope to the patients and their families at Children’s Mercy.

“The research goes so far beyond what people understand and it is changing the way kids are treated for cancer, and what is amazing is that level of expertise and care is here in Kansas City,” smiled McKee.

And while the star-studded, action-packed Big Slick weekend of a celebrity softball game at Kauffman Stadium; a block party and bowling tournament at Prairiefire and Pinstripes; and a party and show at Sprint Center is exciting, the biggest highlight of the weekend is when the guys and all of their invited guests visit the hospital and have the opportunity to interact with the young patients and their families.

“The celebrities who come here have the most amazing experience and are impressed by the phenomenal work being done at the hospital,” reflected McKee. “We are blessed to have such world-class talent with such a great vision working at Children’s Mercy.”

With June just around the corner, Big Slick is ready to charge back into town. During its inaugural year, Riggle had a goal of raising $50,000 and exceeded that goal by $100,000. Last year, Big Slick raised $2.1 million. As for the goal this year, well, as McKee put it best, “It’s going to be the biggest and slickest yet to come!” This year’s Big Slick Celebrity Weekend is scheduled for June 7-8.

For more information about Children’s Mercy and its ongoing research, visit them online at childrensmercy.org.

For more information about Big Slick, go online at bigslickkc.org.

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