Winter 2010: Of Note

Child wearing superhero costume in wheelchair

flash: Jonah Henneberg in one of several superhero costumes he wears to treatments.

Courtesy Henneberg family

Discovering Cures That Let Kids Be Kids

Whitehead Foundation gives $30 million grant to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

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By Mary J. Loftus

Six-year-old Jonah Henneberg wears superhero costumes during his hospital stays at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta—Buzz Lightyear, Flash Gordon, Wolverine. The pretend personas give the Mableton kindergartner the courage to overcome obstacles mere mortals should never have to deal with—such as having had twenty-five hospitalizations before beginning school, having surgery to transplant a new liver, and wearing an IV while watching cartoons.

“This is why I went into pediatrics,” says Associate Professor of Pediatrics Rene Romero, chief of pediatric hepatology and medical director of the liver transplant program at Children’s. “It is amazing how much you can learn about courage, strength, and love from a six-year-old. Every child has a special interest, whether ballet or NASCAR, and tapping into that interest is a great source of strength for them to get through the tough times.”

But even better than providing comprehensive and creative care for these young patients, he says, would be to find cures for the diseases that ail them—cures that would allow them to spend less time in hospital rooms and more time in backyards, ball fields, and their own bedrooms.

In November, Children’s received a $30 million grant from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, a charity that supports organizations that benefit youth in Atlanta. Much of the grant—$25 million—will be used to help fund a new pediatric research building on the Emory campus.

The remaining $5 million will support the work of the Marcus Autism Center in delivering care, expanding research, and advocating for children with autism and related disorders.

Pediatric research planned for the new facility includes cardiac, cancer, vaccines, and drug discoveries. “The relationship between Children’s and Emory has never been better, and this grant will allow us to expand our research partnership,” says Doug Hertz, chair of the Children’s Healthcare Board of Trustees, adding that the pediatric research facility will attract top scientists and drive discovery.

The grant is the largest single gift ever to Children’s and will have “an enormous impact on our efforts to find cures for some of the most common and devastating childhood diseases,” says CEO Donna Hyland.

Perhaps even diseases like biliary atresia, the liver ailment that Jonah, son of Kerrie Henneberg and stepson of her husband, Craig Zurovsky 94MBA, was diagnosed with at three months old. “His sweet little life began so tough . . . with bloodwork, IVs, biopsies, surgery,” she says.

“What would be really wonderful,” says Romero, “would be to find new ways to help kids only pretend to be Superman, not to really have to be Superman. If we did that, all of us would leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

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