Parker Cowherd, 10, is back in school in Cornelius, North Carolina — playing lacrosse, golf, and basketball, riding a bike, and enjoying being a kid again.
But his journey fighting a tumor so rare that only a handful of cases have been reported worldwide is far from over.
Seventeen months of chemotherapy — ending May 2017 — at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, has stopped the growth of the diffuse leptomeningeal glioneuronal tumor in his spine and brain, but it could cause health effects later in Cowherd’s life. Meanwhile, regular scans and checkups keep watch for any signs of renewed cancer growth.
“About 95% of all survivors of childhood cancer are going to have some long-term effects from their therapy or their cancer,” said Dr. Chad Jacobsen, the neuro-oncologist who leads Parker’s care. “About a third of those are going to be severe, with chronic or debilitating illnesses.”
Reducing those risks while continuing to increase the pediatric cancer survival rate — the National Cancer Institute reports a 65% decline in deaths from 1970 to 2016 — is the goal of a new translational research lab for pediatric cancer research at Levine Children’s.
Opened April 27, 2019, the lab – one of six new research labs housed at Levine Cancer Institute – has been a decade in the making and is much needed in the region, according to Jacobsen. “In addition to bringing phase I and II clinical trials to Charlotte and our patients, we knew we needed to be more involved in scientific discoveries and the development of new treatments ourselves,” he said. “That idea has led us to push for development of a lab to translate scientific discoveries into actual therapy options for our patients.
“We have a number of excellent clinicians who really want to drive therapies further along than we have been able to in the past, and the development of labs translating ideas from the laboratory bench to bedside is going to be crucial in developing better and less toxic treatments for our patients.”
‘The Wells Fargo Championship is about so much more than golf’
The new lab is in existence partly due to the Wells Fargo Championship and the $22 million the tournament has raised for charities, said Wells Fargo Region Bank President for Charlotte Kendall Alley, who also serves as board chair for Champions for Education Inc., the nonprofit that runs the tournament. The Wells Fargo Championship contributes an estimated $75 million annually to the Charlotte economy.
“On any given day, the money that comes into the community through the tournament is working to strengthen it in some way."
— Kendall Alley
More than 300 Wells Fargo team members volunteer for the Wells Fargo Championship each year as part of 172,213 volunteers hours for 6,746 organizations in Charlotte in 2018, and more than $11.9 million they contributed financially to local charities. The Wells Fargo Foundation made 401 grants totaling $14.8 million in the region, including $6 million to help create more affordable housing.
“On any given day, the money that comes into the community through the tournament is working to strengthen it in some way,” Alley said of the event Wells Fargo has sponsored since 2003. “The Wells Fargo Championship is about so much more than golf, and one week of seeing the PGA TOUR’s best golfers at work.
“It’s the strength of our communities that determines the strength of Wells Fargo, and the community impact of the Wells Fargo Championship was a key reason our board was unanimous in renewing our sponsorship for another five years through 2024,” he said.
Alley said Tiger Woods’ appearance at the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship helped Champions for Education put $1.5 million back into the Charlotte area last fall. Of that money, Levine Children’s received the largest of three gifts announced in October 2018 — including $250,000 for the translational research lab.
“This kind of support,” said Jacobsen, “is what is going to allow us to fund the research that goes on in the labs — carry out the research, interpret it, and create new and better treatments for our patients.”
Since 2011, the primary beneficiaries of Wells Fargo Championship proceeds have been Levine Children’s, Teach For America-Charlotte, and The First Tee of Greater Charlotte, Alley said. Proceeds have also built a new headquarters for The First Tee of Greater Wilmington — when the tournament was held there in 2017 — and have benefited other Charlotte nonprofits, including:
- Classroom Central — provides free supplies to teachers.
- A Child’s Place — offers housing and other services for homeless children and their families.
- Heart Math Tutoring — tutors elementary students performing below grade-level in math and other subjects.
- Communities in Schools — delivers case management and dropout prevention services in elementary, middle, and high schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district.
- The Foundation for the Carolinas — manages charitable funds established by families, nonprofits, and businesses, including relief for disasters like Hurricane Florence.
“It’s incredible to see events like the Well Fargo Championship and the amazing things done in our community through those dollars working for everybody here,” said Jon Cowherd, Parker Cowherd’s father.
To honor their son’s journey and survival, Jon Cowherd and his wife, Allison, created the Pounding For Parker Foundation in February 2017 dedicated to advancing research for pediatric brain cancer and improving the quality of life of childhood cancer survivors. “The journey doesn’t end with treatment,” said Allison Cowherd. Their foundation has contributed $100,000 to Levine Children’s through fundraising efforts.
“Parker has shown an amazing amount of grit and determination in everything we’ve seen him go through,” Jon Cowherd said. “Sports teach you how to deal with adversity and keep going. As a family, that’s what we all look to do. We try to keep going and keep pounding for Parker.”