Andrew Weaver, a 2 1/2-year-old cancer survivor, darted up to the man standing before the news cameras at Levine Children’s Hospital on Monday and eagerly showed him the model race car he’d just been given.
Andrew, his mom said, was too young to realize the man was Jeff Gordon, one of the fastest race car drivers on the planet before he left for the broadcasting booth. The retired NASCAR driver had just announced that his children’s foundation had established a $2 million endowed chair for pediatric cancer research at Levine, part of Carolinas HealthCare System.
Andrew had just gotten caught up in the excitement. Gordon thanked him, and the boy hurried back to his mom as Gordon continued answering questions from the media.
“We are very, very appreciative to every single person in this building,” Kelly Weaver, 38, of Mooresville, said later. Her son’s cancer is in remission, and Kelly and her husband, Chris, have joined the new Levine Children’s Cancer Champions group of volunteer community ambassadors.
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She wanted to be at Levine with her son on Monday to show how vital donations such as Gordon’s are to further research and help even more children.
In announcing the gift, Gordon said cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease in children in the United States, “and better cures for children with cancer will only come through research. I’ve never faced anything on the race track as tough as childhood cancer. I won’t stop until we beat it.”
The gift creates the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation Endowed Chair in Cancer and Blood Disorders.
“Gifts like these are remarkable and help our pediatric cancer program thrive as one of the best in the country,” said Gene Woods, president and CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System. “Every child deserves to live a carefree life, and our world-class pediatric oncology and hematology research is essential to making this a reality for more and more of our patients.”
Dr. Javier Oesterheld has been named the first Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation Endowed Chair. He is the specialty medical director at Levine’s Torrence E. Hemby Jr. Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Blood and Marrow Transplant Center.
The gift, he said, will prove instrumental in supporting the pediatric cancer research lab scheduled to open at Levine next year and in launching clinical trials to enhance treating and diagnosing cancer and blood disorders.
Sarah Sadler, a 24-year-old two-time leukemia survivor, also attended the announcement.
She is an oncology nurse at Levine who has been free of cancer for nearly 15 years. “This is phenomenal,” she said. “A gift like this, I can’t imagine how much more it will advance the research” into blood diseases and cancers in children and how many more young lives will be saved.