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KC Star: Where does all the Big Slick money go?

Celebrity weekend boosts cancer research and young patients' morale

Big Slick 2017

How are we going to spend so much time in a hospital?

It was one of the first thoughts that ran through Selene Feyerabend’s mind in January when her 8-year-old daughter, Sophia, was diagnosed with leukemia.

Sitting on the Children’s Mercy hospital bed with three of her daughters — Sophia, 7-year-old Maya and 4-year-old Delilah — one recent afternoon, Selene remembers the apprehension.

“I was so nervous,” she says.

So she vented to the nursing team: How would they keep Sophia in good spirits and her mind off of her illness? How would Selene’s other daughters be kept occupied during those long hospital visits? How would she and Sophia, who just weeks before were living normal lives in Overland Park, adjust to a life confined to the four walls of a hospital room?


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“I’m telling the staff my worries, and I remember them being very calm and just telling me: ‘Don’t worry, we do a pretty good job.’ ”

The reassurance, Selene says, was both comforting and perplexing. How were they so calm? How were they so sure?

Big Slick, that’s how. Well, in part, at least.

Since 2010, Big Slick Celebrity Weekend — the extravaganza hosted by local celebrities Rob Riggle, Jason Sudeikis, Paul Rudd, Eric Stonestreet and David Koechner — has donated more than $4.5 million to assist the Cancer Center at Children’s Mercy Kansas City with expansions to provide better stays for patients and families, with groundbreaking research and with the purchase of advanced medical equipment. Last year alone, the event raised more than $1.3 million, its biggest haul yet. This year’s fundraiser is June 23-24.

“I’m speechless, really,” says Dr. Alan Gamis, the cancer center’s section chief of oncology. “Big Slick has impacted the lives of children so much more than they will ever know.”

Gamis has spent more than 25 years researching in the cancer center.

“Recently, new avenues have opened up for treatment,” he says. “Avenues we’ve been able to explore in part because of Big Slick.”


One such avenue is chimeric antigen receptor therapy or CAR T-cell therapy.

The human body’s immune system is composed of millions of T-cells whose job is to fight off and destroy foreign invaders, like a common cold or the flu virus. However, since cancer cells come from within the body, T-cells are not programmed to attack them. It’s one of the reasons cancer can spread so relentlessly.

Gamis and other doctors are experimenting with ways to reprogram T-cells to attack cancer cells without attacking the rest of the body. Children’s Mercy is at the forefront of the research, Gamis says, largely because of Big Slick funds.

“We were one of only five children’s cancer centers embarking on this research a year ago,” Gamis says.


The early signs have been more than encouraging: “We’ve treated both adults and children who only had weeks or months to live,” Gamis says. “They receive the CAR T-cell therapy and are completely leukemia free.”

When compared to chemotherapy, surgery or radiation, Gamis says, CAR T’s toll on the body is minimal:

“These kids, they don’t lose hair. They don’t become sick. It’s amazing,” he says. “They receive these new types of treatment, and they don’t even feel like they’ve done anything. The suffering compared to chemo or radiation is reduced, I’d say, 99 percent. It’s remarkable.”

Read the full article, learn more about Sophia and see photos and video at KansasCity.com.

Learn more about the Children's Mercy Cancer Center.