Gisele Bunchen Gives Her Heart To St. Jude's Children
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Hollywood has a long tradition of doing whatever it takes - golf tournaments,
telethons, concerts, walks and PSAs -- to help children in need. This holiday
season supermodel Gisele Bunchen is selling her heart to benefit St. Jude Children's
"I chose to help St. Jude because first of all, I love kids," says the Brazilian
beauty. "My two grandmothers both died of cancer so I understand how painful
and difficult this disease is on the entire family. My first grandmother passed
away from bone cancer when I was about 10. It was really horrible. I remember
the whole process like it was yesterday."
"So the thought of children going through what my grandmothers went through
with their cancer made me really sad and I had to do something," she adds.
For Bunchen, this meant participating in a unique fundraiser.
Working with Platinum Guild International and Harpers Bazaar, Bunchen designed
an exclusive platinum heart which was manufactured by Gumuchian Fils. A limited
number will be available for sale this month only in Harper's Bazaar magazine.
Twenty-five percent of the proceeds will be donated to St. Jude.
"I liked this fundraising idea because it was unique," Bunchen states. "For
me platinum is the most rare, the most pure and most precious of all metals
- just like St. Jude is the most precious and best place in the world for healing
children with cancer. I think I made a good choice choosing St. Jude because
it shares so many of the best qualities with platinum."
For over 40 years now, St. Jude has been the crown jewel in pediatric cancer
medicine by keeping its promise that if a child is eligible for a treatment
protocol they will never turn a family away because of money.
"If they don't have insurance or they don't have any money, St. Jude will still
treat that child for free," Bunchen notes. "But besides paying for treatment,
they also pay for the families travel expenses, a place to stay and even their
With treatments costing as much as $600,000, St. Jude now treats more than
5000 patients annually. The vast majority are either solid tumor cancer patients
or patients enrolled in leukemia/lymphoma programs.
"We treat the most children in the brain tumor program," reports Joseph Mirro,
chief medical officer and executive vice president of St. Jude Children's Hospital
in Memphis Tennessee. "The major problem we still face in pediatric oncology
is -- how do you cure the child with a brain tumor -- remove the brain tumor
and still leave the child in tact as much as possible so they can go on and
live a normal and productive life?"
In the 1960's, Mirro explains that if a brain tumor could not be surgical removed
there wasn't much hope for survival. But advances in both surgical skill and
medical technology are allowing brain surgeons to successfully remove more of
the tumors with less collateral damage.
Radiation therapy has also progressed dramatically.
"We can now use computer technology to rotate the radiation beam through 360
degrees," Mirro says. "That means we can now hit the tumor exactly the way we
want to hit it for exactly the amount of time needed."
Advances in chemotherapy -- many developed at St. Jude - allow children to
tolerate the treatment better which in turn has increased cure rates for brain
tumors and other solid cancers. Medulloblastoma, which was generally fatal,
now has an 80% cure rate because doctors have been able to increase children's
"But we're also able to protect the child undergoing chemotherapy by giving
them some of their own bone marrow back and thereby eliminating some of the
treatment toxicity," Mirro notes.
Together, these advances at St. Jude have translated into incredible strides
in treating pediatric brain cancer like neuroblastoma, where more than 50% of
patients now survive compared to 10% when the medical center first opened.
While roughly 43% of patients are treated for solid tumors, 39% are treated
for leukemia or lymphoma.
"We treat a lot of ALL or acute lymphoblastic leukemia," Mirro says. "We're
trying to push to 90% cure rates but for that 10% of children - 90% just isn't
good enough. We really have to push this treatment forward and that last 10%
is going to be tough and requires new therapies and knowledge we just don't
And that is why fundraising is critical to St. Jude, where the daily cost of
operations exceeds one million dollars per day.
"Their research is known all over the world but it's expensive so we all need
to help," urges Bunchen, who will appear as a villain in the comedy Taxi starring
Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah. "St. Jude is the hospital that other doctors
all over the world call when they need help treating a child because St. Jude
researchers actually developed many of the treatments."
While St. Jude is perhaps best known for treating and curing childhood cancers,
the institution is also researching many other diseases such as HIV, influenza
and sickle cell disease. Led by Dr. Rupert Handgretinger, St. Jude is also developing
a breakthrough bone marrow transplantation process.
"We are leading the field in pushing the window open wider for using parents
as donors," Mirro states. "Marrow donation without a perfect match is showing
very good promise. And it is exciting because this frontier can also open up
a lot of treatments for other diseases like sickle cell."
In simple terms, Handgretinger's new technique is like a washing of the marrow
donor cells so that the "bad" immune cells that would trigger a graft versus
host reaction are removed leaving only the "good" donor cells for transplantation.
If this technique succeeds one of the biggest and most agonizing problems -
finding a matching donor - will no longer torment families.
Bunchen's family experienced the heartbreak of a terminal illness twice. That's
why she is hoping people will open not only their hearts but also their pocketbooks
to help St. Jude.
"Christmas and the holidays are the season of giving," Bunchen states. "It's
a time when people are more kind and open-hearted. This is a perfect time to
be selling a heart to raise money for kids, because this is of course a time
of year that is very important to children. I remember waiting the whole year
for Christmas to get presents."
Bunchen is herself playing Santa and putting her money where her mouth is.
"I am giving all my sisters each a platinum heart," Bunchen explains. "I did
the design thinking of them and my mother. I have five sisters so the big heart
symbolizes my mom and then there are six diamonds representing each of us sisters
that float around inside connected to the larger heart. So they get to wear
something beautiful and know we are helping an amazing hospital cure children
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Created: 12/20/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.