Comer Children's Hospital announces Holiday Brunch honoree

November 28, 2007

Eight-year-old Olivia Aleman had just graduated from a Winnie-the-Pooh-themed bedroom to hearts and roses when she learned she had leukemia. Since late summer, when she discovered she has cancer, she has undergone surgery and nine doses of chemotherapy.

Olivia will be honored for her courage at the fourth annual Holiday Brunch to benefit The University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital at American Girl Place, Sunday, December 2 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Olivia's parents first noticed something awry in midsummer when she lacked energy and had excessive bruising on her legs. At first they attributed them to roughhousing with her 6-year-old brother, but then she lost a tooth and her gums would not stop bleeding. Whether a mother's intuition or a teacher's instinct, Olivia's mom Mary suspected leukemia.

An estimated 3,800 children will be diagnosed with leukemia this year. Leukemia accounts for more than one-third of all childhood cancer diagnoses. Olivia has acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), which accounts for 75 percent of leukemia in children. As of yet, doctors do not know why some people get it and some don't.

"We know that genetic and environmental factors play a role, but the origin is still a mystery," said James Nachman, MD, an internationally renowned cancer expert and director of clinical programs at Comer Children's Hospital.

Although the 5-year-survival rate for ALL is now 80 percent, comprehensive treatments take about two and a half years. During that time, Olivia will have spells of exhaustion. She'll have to curtail simple activities she enjoys, such as tap dancing, playing house with friends and riding her scooter.

Proceeds from the Holiday Brunch and ten percent of merchandise sales, made between Nov. 18 and Dec. 2, will benefit Comer Children's Hospital. During the event, participants will enjoy private shopping, an elegant brunch in American Girl Place's cafe and stories of inspiration.

Previous recipients include Déjà King, who lost her hearing to Cogan's syndrome and later regained part of it thanks to a cochlear implant; cancer survivor Megan Schillerstrom; and Baylie Owen, who lives with Chiari malformation, a neurological condition that causes excruciating headaches.

American Girl Place is located at 111 E. Chicago Ave. The event is open to the public. Tickets cost $75 per person and can be purchased by contacting Gail Vijuk at (773) 834-4095 or gvijuk@peds.bsd.uchicago.edu.

Media interested in attending or wishing to set up interviews should contact Theresa Carson at (773) 702-6241 or theresa.carson@uchospitals.edu.

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john.easton@uchospitals.edu