I've been thinking of starting this "NASCAR Honor Roll" for some time now, but a luncheon I attended today for the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation really inspired me to get it going.
In a room full of donors and potential donors for his foundation, Gordon acted as host and emcee of a panel consisting of doctors on a local, national and global scale.
The event was simply to give some background on what Gordon's foundation was doing and what it hoped to accomplish in the future – and it was very impressive.
If you're not familiar with the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation, it has two primary goals: First, to help fund the Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital in Concord, N.C.; and second, to help raise money for pediatric cancer research.
As part of his hosting duties on the stage, Gordon asked the doctors questions about their work and demonstrated an incredible knowledge of pediatric cancer. He knew all the terminology and was clearly aware of the issues they faced; it was obvious this wasn't just someone who throws money at a cause, but takes an active role in it.
Here are some of the things I learned from the luncheon:
• Cancer is the No. 1 killer of young children – 40,000 children in the United States alone have the disease – but the pharmaceutical companies aren't investing as much in medicine as they should. In the last half-century, only one cancer treatment drug has come on the market specifically for children, while 50 cancer drugs for adults have been released in the same time period. Gordon's foundation gives money to a research company that tries to find ways to apply some of the current drugs to pediatric cancer.
• Though pediatric cancer treatments have progressed to an 80 percent cure rate, Gordon is very concerned with secondary effects from the drugs that may affect a child for many years. His foundation is helping look for ways to reduce side effects from existing cancer treatments.
• Gordon is planning to spend his July off week from NASCAR by returning to Rwanda for the second straight year. Last year, he went to see the situation in the country with his own eyes so he could better understand what needs to be done. For example: There are no cancer doctors in the entire country of Rwanda (which has 10.5 million people). His foundation helped build a new cancer center there, which will begin accepting patients on July 18.
In essence, Gordon and his foundation are focused on "saving childhoods." They want to cure pediatric cancer, of course, but they also want to make life better for the children and families who have to go through a terrible ordeal.
One of the members of Gordon's panel was a mother who lost her son to cancer at age 7 after a years-long fight. Her story really made it hit home why Gordon's foundation is doing such important work.
At the end of the luncheon, Gordon pointed out a bottle of bubbles at every seat. Bubbles are part of the foundation's logo, he said, because they're a reminder of the children it serves.
"Children are playful and beautiful, but they're also very fragile," he said. "It's a reminder every child deserves a full and happy life."