Med students to donate Derby Marathon medals to children with cancer
April 20th, 2009
For 17-year-old Britney Purkeypile, this year’s Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon will be one event to remember, even though she won’t be running it herself.
Purkeypile was diagnosed with bone cancer late last year after a tumble left her with an unusually sore knee. Although her doctors caught the cancer early, she still had to undergo cancer treatment and have a knee replacement. Her surgery was last week.
When the 12,000 entrants for this year’s Derby Festival marathon take to Louisville’s streets Saturday, April 25, UofL first-year medical student Stevie Carraro will be running in partnership with Purkeypile. On Sunday, April 26, she’ll give Purkeypile her medal.
Carraro is one of 11 UofL medical students participate in Medale4Mettle, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization that links athletes and critically ill individuals. Each will give their medals to pediatric patients being treated for cancer by UofL faculty.
Riley Jones, another first-year medical student, organized this first contingent of UofL Medals4Mettle runners.
“We are donating our medals to recognize the courageous efforts of these children and their families who spend every day fighting cancer,” Jones said.
The patients to receive the medals range in age from 3 to 17 years old. All but two are undergoing cancer treatment. Two have brain cancer, one has bone cancer, one has ovarian cancer and the rest have acute lymphocytic leukemia. The child psychologist and nursing staff of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Specialists, a practice operated by faculty members of the UofL Department of Pediatrics, paired the students with their patient partners.
“I know this will be a positive experience for our patients,” said Salvatore Bertolone, chief of the UofL Division of Hematology, Oncology, Blood and Marrow Transplant. “This program will also make our students better doctors. It’s one thing to read about a disease and another to see the impact that disease has on the patient and their families. This makes it real.”
Purkeypile is cancer-free now. Recovery will take a while, even though she’s working hard to rebuild her strength. One day after surgery, she was able to take one step using a walker. The next day she took two steps and by the end of the week she walked several feet beyond her hospital room.
But because she was unable to attend a Medals4Mettle party April 17 where the patients met their med-school partners, Carraro instead visited her in the hospital. It was an eye-opening experience.
“Here I am dreading this race and she”s all excited about walking to the sink and back. It’s humbling,” Carraro said, adding that she’ll think about the Butler High School junior as she continues her medical education. “She was so upbeat. It was good to hear how much she liked her doctors.”