Dick Hakes, Taking Liberties Published 10:13 a.m. CT Jan. 2, 2020 | Updated 11:21 a.m. CT Jan. 2, 2020
Finn is shown with his father, John Hall, during the nearly 18-month period about ten years ago in which the boy battled cancer through chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy.(Photo: Special to the Press-Citizen)
John Hall of Iowa City recalls how it all started in early 2009.
Before his son Finns third birthday, the boy started spiking fevers. Then he complained of stiff legs. Then a black eye showed up that would not go away.
A CT scan eventually produced what John said was the worst call I ever received.
A tumor on Finns cheek was traced to another on his adrenal gland. It was stage four neuroblastoma. He had about a 35% to 40% chance to survive it.
What followed was almost 18 months of aggressive treatment at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) chemotherapy sessions, two surgeries, two stem cell transplants, radiation and finally immunotherapy, which had just been green-lighted for broader use nationwide.
Those months became a heartbreakingly painful, sleepless, worrisome and all-encompassing ordeal for the entire family especially for Finn.
A recent photo of Finn Hall shows a smiling, cancer-free kid wearing a T-shirt promoting the Red Shamrock Foundation started by his father, John Hall.(Photo: Special to the Press-Citizen)
It worked, however, and the cancer disappeared.
We threw the cancer playbook at him, John said. I give the immunotherapy regiment credit for saving his life. It took care of the remaining cancer cells in the end. He was the first patient to complete that regiment at the U.
But it wasnt long after Finn came home and the family worked to return to a normal life that a new troubling reality emerged that led John to form the Red Shamrock Foundation.
Our only focus was getting past the cancer, he said. But now, because he had received so many harsh treatments at such a young age, we realized Finn would need some type of specialized care for the rest of his life.
Finn is 13 now and leading a pretty normal life, but because chemotherapy killed the seeds of his adult teeth, he still has all of his baby teeth, which will have to be replaced when he becomes an adult. He also has some minor hearing loss, kidney damage and must take growth hormones.
But it could have been a lot worse, John said. After cancer, kids sometimes have serious cognitive issues or chronic heart disease or secondary cancers due to the chemo and radiation. Some lose a limb or an organ.
He says he was amazed to learn that 95% of young cancer survivors can expect some type of serious chronic health condition by the time they reach age 45.
It hit me that people need to know about this, he said. I wanted to raise awareness that youre not done just because you have left the hospital.
John formed his nonprofit in 2011 with the help of friends who could handle obtaining legal status and help design a professional logo and web pages. A shamrock logo with a red heart seemed appropriate, given the familys Irish heritage.
The Red Shamrock Foundation mission is simple: Raise public awareness of the unique needs of kids who survive cancer, plus support survivorship programs and post-cancer research in Iowa.
As detailed on its website at http://www.redshamrock.org, the group sponsors three large fundraising events each year: A trail race at Regina High School in the spring, a golf outing in Mount Vernon in June and a Red Tie Gala during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September. Other money comes from donations and an online store operated through One Mission Fund Raising of Mount Vernon.
John Hall of Iowa City founded the Red Shamrock Foundation to raise public awareness that children who survive cancer will often face other medical challenges related to their treatment for the rest of their lives.(Photo: Dick Hakes/Special to the Press-Citizen)
As its director, John meets monthly with his board and often promotes the cause by speaking to civic groups. He says securing about $25,000 from the local 100 Men Who Careorganization a few years ago helped raise our profile in the community. All involved with Red Shamrock are unpaid volunteers.
In the past few years, the nonprofit has donated $110,000 for research projects at the university and through Passport for Care to assemble data on the health and needs of post-cancer patients.
Red Shamrock also provides educational materials for parents and teachers on how to explain cancer to kids and what to expect when a cancer survivor returns to class.
Finn was out of preschool for a year and a half, going through all he went through, then suddenly found himself back at preschool surrounded by 30 active, screaming kids, John said. The teachers were good, but Id drop him off and hed just sit in the middle of the room and cry. It took maybe six months for him to get comfortable again.
Dick Hakes(Photo: Special to the Press-Citizen)
The next step for Red Shamrock, John says, is to try to find a national partner and increase its scope beyond Iowa. A dedicated Team Red Shamrock group that participates in running events in other locations may be the catalyst for this, he said.
He has high praise for UIHC and points out that it now operates a survivorship clinic directed by Dr. Bill Terry, a pediatric oncologist.
The bottom line is to raise awareness of what pediatric cancer patients must face after theyve already fought the battle of their lives,John said. People need to understand that their fight is never over.
John is an Elkader native, a University of Iowa graduate in anthropology and a 30-year resident of Iowa City who works for Coldwell Banker in real estate. His wife Monica is a nurse at UIHC. Finn has an older brother, Sully.
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Red Shamrock: Fight never over, even when kids beat cancer - Iowa City Press-Citizen
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