By Lauren Wanko
About 75 kids at Mountain Hill School unite for 4-year-old cancer fighter Natalie Gorsegner and all children battling pediatric cancer, hiking the hill behind their school to raise awareness and much needed funds for childhood cancer research.
Andrea Verdone Gorsegner, whose daughter Natalie, was diagnosed with high-risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia just before her third birthday. She’s been undergoing chemotherapy ever since. As Natalie fights her battle, Andrea decided to take on another — increase the amount of funding for pediatric cancer research. There simply isn’t enough, says the mother of two.
Under the latest state budget, funding for cancer research is being slashed by about $10 million.
“We are trying to put together a budget with increasing pension costs, increasing health benefit costs and increasing debt service costs,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
“I think it’s such a crime. They’re able to put it into so many other areas that aren’t as important than our children’s health. You just can’t find a million to put into a research budget?” asked Natalie’s dad Dan.
Gov. Christie notes there are other public and federal programs to fund the research.
The National Cancer Institute allocated a little more than 4 percent of funding for childhood cancers research — $208 million out of a budget of about $5 billion. And the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society told NJTV New they invested 8 percent or $6 million last year in direct support of pediatric cancers from a nearly $74 million research commitment.
The Gorsegner family is taking matters into their own hands. They launched a campaign — “Will You Send Us a Dollar?” In just five months, Natalie raised $110,000, with every dollar going toward pediatric cancer research through The Truth 365. Donations poured in from all 50 states and other countries. It’s become a family effort.
“I donated my whole piggy bank,” said Natalie’s sister Hannah.
Andrea and her family set a new goal — that is to raise $150,000 by Natalie’s fifth birthday on Sept. 28. So far they’ve raised $20,000 and after today’s event, they’re getting even closer to that goal.
The Mountain Hill School raised $13,000 and counting.
“I think they really need our help,” said Maya, 5.
Natalie’s courage and strength bring mom Andrea to tears.
“I am so proud. I get emotional when I think about… People ask me where I find my strength and it’s all her,” Andrea said.
Natalie’s treatments finally end in November.