Mass General's chief of pediatric hematology oncology will be running the 2016 Boston Marathon in honor of a five-year-old with leukemia who recently surprised him with a poem and a painting.

Harry Burns, 5, walked into the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Unit at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) on Jan. 27, 2016 with a secret. The youngster, clad in a dress shirt and pink bow tie, carried a green gift bag for his Boston Marathon running mate, Howard Weinstein, MD, chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

Run for MGH - Mass General Marathon TeamIn the bag was a blue canvas, painted by Harry with the help of his mother, Elizabeth, and twin brother, Sammy, with his footprints in yellow and a poem of thanks:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Thank you for honoring me
by running 26.2
Love, Harry

Through the 2016 Boston Marathon “Fighting Kids Cancer … One Step at a Time” Patient Partner Program, MGH runners are connected with pediatric patients undergoing treatment or those in remission. Harry and Dr. Weinstein were paired to provide continuous motivation – Harry through complicated medical treatments and Dr. Weinstein from Hopkinton to Boston.

The blue canvas Harry Burns gave to Dr. Weinstein includes his footprints and a poem of thanks.
The blue canvas Harry Burns gave to Dr. Weinstein includes his footprints and a poem of thanks.

Due to injury, Weinstein was unable to run last year – what would have been his 25th consecutive Boston Marathon – so on April 18, 2016 he will run to complete that monumental milestone, also his 19th as captain of the pediatric cancer care team. The team has raised $11 million since it was established in 1998, with Weinstein raising $1.2 million over the years.

Strength from Patients

“Each year, I find strength, inspiration and courage in my patients like Harry,” says Dr. Weinstein. “There is no more meaningful experience than honoring my patients and all pediatric oncology patients while raising funds to support our program.” During their special trip to Yawkey 8B, the shy child initially hugged mom for encouragement, but soon warmed up with a hug and smile for Weinstein.

In April 2015, Harry was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, commonly known as ALL, the most common type of cancer diagnosed in children. Leukemia begins in the bone marrow and interferes with normal blood cell reduction. The cancer is 10 to 20 times more prevalent in individuals with Down syndrome, like Harry, than those without the genetic condition. However, because leukemia is quite rare, less than 1 percent of those with Down syndrome will develop the cancer.
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Broader Boston Marathon Effort

“The team, particularly Dr. Weinstein and Mary Jo Gonzales, CPNP, have been incredibly important in Harry’s treatment. Karen Darocha, RN, has been like his second mom in the clinic furthering our successful visits,” says Elizabeth. “With the Patient Partner Program, they’ve found a special and unique way to extend Harry’s connection with MGHfC beyond the hospital’s walls. While he won’t be physically there on the course, we wanted to show Dr. Weinstein that our family is with him every step.”

Since 1998, John Hancock has provided Mass General’s Marathon Program with the bib numbers necessary to run the race.

Since 1998, John Hancock has provided Mass General’s Marathon Program with the bib numbers necessary to run the race. This has enabled the hospital to raise more than $11 million to support research and child life activities for children with cancer and, for the past two years, nearly $700,000 for the hospital’s emergency preparedness and disaster training.

In addition to the pediatric and first-response teams, 24 individuals who obtained their own bib numbers for the Boston Marathon will run and fundraise for the Miles for Mass General program. It raises funds for hospital programs that are close to their hearts – including cystic fibrosis, pediatric palliative care, Caring for a Cure, the Mass General Cancer Center, the Lurie Center for Autism, and Huntington’s disease research at the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease.

Please support Dr. Weinstein and the other dedicated runners raising funds for Mass General.

This story first appeared in MGH Hotline.