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Dance Marathon commits $1 million to the Children’s Hospital

BY EMILY BUSSE | APRIL 27, 2010 7:30 AM

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The University of Iowa Dance Marathon is pledging a $1 million donation to help the UI Children’s Hospital revamp outdated cancer-research facilities, UI Foundation officials will announce today.

The gift is the student group’s largest single contribution to date and marks a shift in focus for the pediatric cancer advocates.

While Dance Marathon has historically provided pediatric cancer patients and their parents emotional support and day-to-day comforts, including toys, meals, and activities, the decision to pay for a research facility was just as important, said UI senior Kyle Walters, a member of the group’s allocations committee.

“It’s not just looking at the bricks and mortar so much, it’s the potential and possibilities that could come from it,” said Walters, who was recently named the executive director of Dance Marathon. “It’s a move in a new direction.”

The $1 million donation — supplemented by $400,000 from the Carver College of Medicine — will go toward what campus medical officials say is a necessary renovation to the pediatric hematology and oncology research facilities in the UI Medical Laboratories.

In one hallway of that building Monday, decades-old rooms sat vacant. Old petri dishes, broken computers, lab coats, and dead bugs lay collecting dust in the labs, which have been untouched for several months.

Jim Henderson, an assistant dean of the medical school, pointed out a makeshift countertop made from a wooden board, propped up on bricks that were “most likely from a lumber yard.” Some of the tile could be asbestos laden, he said, and the ceilings are open to the cement above.

But in 14 months, the space will resemble a renovated space nearby — complete with all-white features and desk spaces in a shared area, as well as rooms for equipment in the center.

UI Children’s Hospital officials requested the funding from Dance Marathon to help keep the university’s facilities on par with other institutions, said Sheila Baldwin, the executive director of development for the UI Children’s Hospital at the UI Foundation.

While other hospitals have adopted the new, team-based collaborative research in one open space, the UI labs has not had the financing to change from its setup with small, separate labs for each researcher.

“[The current setup is] just awful,” Michael Artman, the physician in chief at the Children’s Hospital. “It’s just junky little cubbyholes.”

Artman said the new setup would allow for a team atmosphere and foster more communication.

Researchers will save money by sharing equipment with the “team science” approach, he said.

Artman said he hopes the changes will help the hospital recruit the best researchers to the university.

For Bill Nelson, the head of the Dance Marathon Allocations Committee, the decision to fund the project was an exciting one, especially for students on the board.

“It’s the notion of a legacy and how their work, their decision, their compassion today is something that will be felt for years and years to come,” he said.

Walters agreed.

“As someone who doesn’t even have a real job yet, who makes minimum wage working day to day, to be able to present a check for $1 million is really amazing,” he said.

Dance Marathon has raised more than $8.5 million in its 16-year history. Since 2008, the group has collected around $1 million each year.

Baldwin said she hopes the gift will enable researchers to make groundbreaking discoveries.

“You have done so much to take care of our patients while they’re here,” Baldwin said she told the Dance Marathon Allocation Committee earlier this year. “Now, let’s find a cure for this disease. Let’s put all of us out of business.”

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