Grace Eline has been through and been in the spotlight more than most people five times her age. The 11-year-old brain tumor survivor is the daughter of Aubrey Reichard-Eline, co-owner and instructor of Unwind Yoga and Wellness here in New Providence.
Grace served as honorary captain for the NY Jets football team, sat next to the First Lady and was mentioned by President Donald Trump during the 2019 state for the union address, just to name a few notable moments. Next, she’ll be the featured speaker at New Providence-based Brooke Healey Foundation’s Casino Night Gala, taking place on March 7 to benefit families fighting pediatric cancer and support targeted research.
Despite her notoriety, Aubrey says, “Grace does not like being the center of attention, she prefers to be a ‘normal’ kid. However, when it comes to helping others, and especially helping to fight pediatric brain cancer, she is all in to speak and bring awareness to this cause.”
The Foundation exists in honor of 5-year-old Brooke Healey, daughter of Stefani and Steve Healey, co-presidents of the Foundation, formerly of New Providence. In 2013, Brooke lost an 8-month battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), an inoperable, very aggressive brain tumor.
DIPG is a type of tumor that primarily affects children, with most diagnoses occurring between 5 and 7 years of age. It is 100 percent fatal and makes up 10-15% of all brain tumors in children, with about 150-300 new diagnoses per year in the United States alone.
The Foundation’s mission is to build awareness and raise funds for research in DIPG, to help families dealing with pediatric cancers, especially brain cancers and DIPG, to promote community involvement through scholarships awarded to civically active high school seniors.
Since its founding in 2014, the Foundation has donated $250,000 directly to families and provided $300,000 in funding for research. As a foundational partner of the DIPG Collaborative, a portion of the money for research is allotted to the organization — a collection of foundations with the common interest of supporting research into DIPG.
The Collaborative has funded nearly $8 million in research so far, and many experts believe that finding a cure for DIPG, will result in a “homerun cure” for all cancers. In 2018, Steve, a Madison High School math teacher, was named Membership/Research Ambassador of the DIPG Collaborative.
He helps recruit more foundations to extend the organization’s impact. Because he’s now entrenched in the research community and has become well-versed in the science of DIPG, in this capacity, he’s also a key influencer in determining where research funding should be bestowed.
The Underfunding of Pediatric Cancer
In 1962, Neil Armstrong’s daughter Karen died from DIPG. The prognosis and protocol have not changed since then, When the Healey’s first faced Brooke’s diagnosis, they were told the disease has no cure and virtually no treatment.
Steve says, “We couldn’t believe it. The doctors told us that until parents like us make a difference, nothing will change. We came to understand that pediatric cancer gets only 4% of annual government funding, and that amount is spread over 24 different types of cancer. When Brooke passed away, we started our Foundation to change this.”
Having gone through pediatric cancer with Grace, Aubrey agrees, “Local foundations bring awareness to underfunded and under communicated causes and can really make an impact. These local foundations are approachable for local people to then mobilize for a cause. It inspires the power any one person can have to make a difference — on they can actually see in their communities. Foundations such as The Brooke Healey Foundation exist and operate at a local level but can make an impact nationally. This is critical in the fight against pediatric cancer.”
Changing the Way Pediatric Cancer is Treated
Steve is also co-leading the effort to get H.R. 4429: The Fairness to Kids with Cancer Act passed. A private Facebook group was created to action on this legislation. “We outline how registered voters in each of the 435 U.S. Congressional districts can reach out to their representatives in support this H.R. 4429,” he says.
In just a few months, more than 2,000 people have joined the effort and spurred 23 legislators to support the bill. Concerned citizens can join the group to find resources that will help them get involved.
The Brooke Healey Foundation is also a funding partner of The Collaborative Network for Neuro-oncology Clinical Trials (CONNECT), an international collaborative network of pediatric cancer centers. “The CONNECT Consortium is generating excitement among researchers and hospitals alike. It provides an avenue to bring translational research directly to trial. This both speeds the research process and allows researchers to determine the degree of the effectiveness of the research in an actual clinical trial. Faster analysis of translational research combined with real time results of clinical trials speeds to process of finding cures,” according to Steve.
Aubrey says, “Grace will do whatever she can to help people understand that cancer is not easy, and kids like her are in the fight and need help. She will bring up in casual conversations how she wants to help find a cure so an opportunity like The Brooke Healey Foundation’s Casino Night Gala is important to her and to get closer to finding a cure.”
The public is invited to attend the gala, which takes place on March 7, 2020 from 7-11pm at The Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset, NJ. Tickets are $150 each and include $200 in “play money.” The night features table gaming, cocktail reception with buffet, open bar, live music, raffle and silent auction. Grace will be the featured speaker. Click here to register or volunteer.
This year’s event also coincides with the members only DIPG/DMG Collaborative’s meeting. The Brooke Healey Foundation will host leaders and volunteers from other member foundations to share best practices, discuss progress and plan for the future. Meetings will take place over two days and culminate with the Gala.