Mike and Nicole Gerdin (93BA, 94MA), of Solon, Iowa, traveled across the country seeking treatment for their son Nicholas, who was diagnosed in April 2016 at age 8 with leukemia. Physician Arunkumar Modi and his pediatric oncology team at University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital provided Nicholas' care and coordinated additional therapy in Philadelphia and Seattle.
Grateful for the Iowa medical team's commitment to Nicholas' health, Mike and Nicole recently made a $2 million gift to Stead Family Children's Hospital to establish the Gerdin Family Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Therapy Fund. The fund will support advances in the children's hospital's cellular therapy and bone marrow transplant program, allowing more families to find pediatric cancer care closer to home.
Nicholas' cancer resisted traditional treatment methods at Stead Family Children's Hospital. Proactively seeking solutions, the Iowa team discovered Nicholas had a rare RNA fusion that was driving his cancer and targeted it with a TKI pharmaceutical drug. The leukemia didn't respond. After testing Nicholas' cancer cells for different TKI medications, the team decided he would be best served with immunological therapy. The team then enrolled Nicholas in a CAR T-cell therapy trial in Philadelphia that used a genetically improved version of his white blood cells to attack his cancer cells. The groundbreaking treatment enabled Nicholas to travel to Seattle to undergo a bone marrow transplant—a procedure physicians recommended to improve his long-term prognosis.
Both treatments, which are now practiced at Stead Family Children's Hospital, provided optimism amid the Gerdins' arduous journey. The children's hospital's dedication to Nicholas' care also inspired Mike and Nicole to give back to help other families affected by pediatric cancer. "Dr. Modi always had a treatment or trial option to share with us that provided continued hope," says Nicole. "We just want to do our part to help Dr. Modi's team continue to make strides in pediatric cancer treatment and give other families and children hope."
More than four years in remission, Nicholas is a healthy 13-year-old who's active in football, basketball, baseball, fishing, and hunting. He returns to Stead Family Children's Hospital for routine checkups and is a testament to the life-changing advancements occurring in stem cell transplant and cellular therapy that are available in Iowa City.
As Modi and his team continue pursuing groundbreaking treatments and trials at Stead Family Children's Hospital, Mike and Nicole are supporting their efforts to help families find the care they need closer to home. "Watching your child fight a life-threatening disease is one of the most challenging things any parent could face," says Nicole. "Being able to stay closer to home allows the child and their family to be near their community and support system during this challenging journey and can really have a positive effect on the cancer treatment's success and your child's overall well-being."