UofL students award Derby marathon medals to critically ill ‘running buddies’

University of Louisville student marathon runners marked the end of the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and the university’s fifth Medals4Mettle season by giving their Derby marathon medals to pediatric patient “running buddies”  at a ceremony held today on the UofL Belknap campus.

Medals4Mettle is an Indianapolis-based program that connects athletes and critically ill patients. The Louisville chapter is based at the UofL School of Medicine. Runners participate in Medals4Mettle to extend their knowledge about critical illnesses beyond the classroom. This year, 52 med students were paired with children with cancer and serious blood disorders. As part of their training for the race, many students exchanged e-mails and phone calls with their patient partners and kept vigil through doctor visits.

“Medals4Mettle is so rewarding. Medical students tend to live inside textbooks and in the classroom. Medals4Mettle gives us a chance to put faces to life-threatening illnesses and an opportunity to dedicate our time to the courage and mettle of these amazing families,” said Meagan Holtgrave, a second-year medical student and UofL Medals4Mettle president.

The students’ running buddies also received Medals4Mettle ribbons from Steve Isenberg, M.D., founder of the charity, who attended this year’s ribbon ceremony.

“I am so proud of the medical students involved with Medals4Mettle at the University of Louisville. For several years they have donated their time and hard-earned medals to those who are in a much more difficult race. A physician myself, I am particularly impressed by the dedication of these outstanding medical students. As Hippocrates said, ‘Where there is love for humanity, there also is a love for the art of medicine,’” Isenberg said.

The children who received the Derby Marathon medals range in age from 1 to 16 years old and are being treated by UofL pediatric hematologist/oncologists for conditions such as brain cancer, bone cancer, hemophilia, leukemia and sickle cell disease.

Seven-year-old Dawson Barr collected his fifth Medals4Mettle Derby medal this year. He and his mother, Amy Barr, addressed the crowd assembled in the Belknap Student Activity Center for the ceremony.

Amy Barr explained, “I do this for Dawson, to lighten his day. He thinks it’s neat to get to participate. If med students can run 13 or 26 miles and end up with nothing to show for it, then I can take time out of my day to go thank them.”

Dawson was diagnosed with brain cancer at 6 months old. The first mass was found April 26, 2006. Since then, he has had multiple brain and spinal tumors. He was been treated for five years on several protocols of chemotherapy. He’s been out of treatment since February, 2012. One tumor remains on his brain.

“Dawson and his family have a lot to teach us all about mettle,” said UofL pediatric oncologist Salvatore Bertolone, M.D., who has treated Dawson since he was first diagnosed. “He and his family have put their lives on hold. This is not one little boy with cancer but a family affair. They live with the unknown and deal with ongoing changes in schedules and unexpected trips to our clinic or the hospital. Try getting through a week never knowing what you will need to do tomorrow until tomorrow comes. Dawson and his family are always smiling and gracious, intently focused on what is important.”


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