Wichita, KS – Newman’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is pairing with the Wichita chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation to put on a Halloween 5K Fun Run/Walk that will raise money to grant the “Wishes” of children with life-threatening illnesses. SAAC Director Maureen “Mo” Rohleder said SAAC has hosted similar events the last two years around Christmas time called the “Ugly Sweater Run,” but they chose to move the run to October because no one likes to run in the cold.
Rohleder said Heartland Conference universities are required to raise 600 dollars a year in charitable contributions, and the last year 100 percent of Heartland Conference universities met that goal.
“It takes a lot of work, but we usually make it,” Rohleder said.
The money they raise will go to the Wichita Make-A-Wish Foundation who grants the wishes of children like Director of Alumni Relations Sarah Cundiff’s 9-year-old daughter Julianna, who was recently diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a disease in which her bone marrow stops producing all three types of blood cells.
Cundiff said in July Julianna started to feel very fatigued and refused to get out of bed for three days. Cundiff thought her daughter might just have a bad case of the flu, until July 24 when things got really bad.
“You could see her heart beating – visibly see it,” Cundiff said. “Her red blood cells were completely depleted, and they said if she was an adult it would have been a cardiac arrest.”
Cundiff said they rushed Julianna to the hospital and after four days a bone marrow biopsy came back that determined she had aplastic anemia.
“It’s been a whirlwind for a few months,” Cundiff said. “Now she’s on a treatment plan. She takes a heavy does of ciclosporin. That’s a pretty toxic drug that suppresses her immune system from attacking her bone marrow.”
Cundiff said one great consolation for her daughter is that she doesn’t feel ill, just fatigued, and that the only real side effect she seems to be experiencing is hair growth.
“It’s interesting because it’s the opposite of chemo. She is getting a lot of hair,” Cundiff said.
In the next few months, if the ciclosporin works and Julianna’s bone marrow begins to produce blood cells, she won’t need further treatment, Cundiff said. In the meantime, she has to receive blood transfusions every few weeks to keep her from getting seriously ill.
“I’ve lost count of how many she’s had already,” she said. “But she’s had enough.”
Cundiff said her young daughter has taken all of the long days in and out of hospitals in stride.
“She’s a little trooper,” Cundiff said. “During all of this, she has not once asked, ‘Why me?’.”
If the ciclosporin doesn’t work, Julianna will have to receive a bone marrow transplant.
Cundiff said Julianna’s pediatric hematologist said her numbers are definitely going in the right direction, though they won’t know for sure until around December sometime.
She said the Wichita chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well as the love and support of friends, family and strangers has really helped them through this trying time.
“The Make-A-Wish Foundation has been a huge silver lining in all of this,” Cundiff said. “There are so many blessings, to be honest.”
Make-A-Wish is currently working on granting Julianna’s wish to swim with dolphins. Cundiff’s friends have helped provide meals as well as repainting Julianna’s bedroom. Many of Julianna’s classmates, as well as friends of the Cundiffs, are going to participate in the Newman Halloween 5K Fun Run/Walk this next week.
“I put it on Facebook and invited 500 friends, because it wouldn’t let me invite any more,” said Cundiff. “I’m excited. I know all the kids are excited, and their moms are all coming out. We’re blessed.”
Cundiff said before Julianna was ever diagnosed, she would participate in many Leukemia Society events to help raise money for friends with the blood cancer, which is similar to aplastic anemia.
“I think I did 12 half-marathons and four full marathons to raise money for the Leukemia Society,” she said.
Now, many of those friends that she ran for, will be running at the Newman Halloween 5K to support her daughter.
“I’m just grateful for everybody. It’s amazing,” she said.
The Newman Halloween 5K Fun Run/Walk will start at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28 at Newman University. The event will include prizes for best costume and best times, as well as trick ‘r’ treating throughout the race. The event is free for children 10 and under, five dollars per person for groups of eight or more, $10 for students with ID, and $20 for adults 25 and older. Attendees can register at the event or online.