IOWA CITY— North Liberty Police Chief Jim Warkentin is wearing his hair a little shorter these days. Actually, he’s not wearing his hair at all, and is braving these early winter days with a freshly shaven head.
Losing his locks, however, could help lead to a cure for kids with cancer.
The chief and two others had their heads shaved during a charity event Saturday, Dec. 3, at The Summit in downtown Iowa City. Warkentin and James Arkema raised pledge money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization which raises and disburses money for pediatric cancer research. Kali Vetter of Waterloo attended the event and decided to go bald as a sign of solidarity with a person in her family who is battling cancer currently.
Chief Warkentin raised well over his goal of $1,000, as did Arkema, who works at Integrated DNA Technologies in Coralville. Arkema noted the firm sells DNA to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which is one of St. Baldrick’s recipients.
Volunteer event co-organizer Liz Jackson said this was the third such event in the Iowa City area, with over $13,000 raised. Nationally, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation has raised over $118 million since the first event in 2000. More than 189,000 heads have been shaved with over 17,300 of them female. The organization says it has provided more than $21 million in research money just this year.
St. Baldrick is a fictional character created by a group of 17 friends in New York City who challenged each other to raise $1,000 each on St. Patrick’s Day, 2000. The combination of going bald (to raise the money) and St. Patrick’s Day led to “St. Baldrick’s.”
For all the fun and good-natured ribbing Warkentin and Arkema took as they sat on stage and were sheared before a crowd of supporters and well-wishers, the reason the money was needed was driven home by Dr. Sue O’Dioriso who spoke of the impact of pediatric cancer, and the value of research. Dr. O’Dioriso is a pediatric hematology oncology researcher at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) and said her department has been applying for St. Baldrick’s grants for several years.
“These grants are more competitive than the government’s National Institute of Health (NIH) grants,” O’Dioriso said. However, this year she was awarded a grant for “new ways to image and treat brain cancer in children.”
While she is excited to be able to help children and their families, it is work she clearly wishes did not need to be done. Her heart goes out to those affected.
“You have a beautiful baby. You have a baby who is becoming a child or a young person, and all of a sudden or over a couple of weeks time, everything in your life changes. I can’t imagine how these families cope. But I feel very privileged to be able to help the families through.”
O’Dioriso Added, “you’re the defense on the team who protects us from the economy and helps us keep going when funds are short.”
In the United States cancer kills more children than any other disease, including AIDS, asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and congenital anomalies combined. Every three and a half minutes, a child is diagnosed with cancer, and one dies every four hours after losing their battle. Currently one in five children diagnosed with cancer will not survive and two thirds of those who survive will have a chronic condition from the treatment (radiation therapy or chemotherapy) that saved them. Part of Dr. O’Dioriso’s research is to find ways to identify patients who do not need radiation treatments.
“We can’t do it without help from those of you who give us the start here locally” Dr. O’Dioriso said.
Jackson told the audience prior to Warkentin’s time in the chair that over $5,000 had been raised from this event.
For more information on The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, go to www.StBaldricks.org  or call 1-888-899-BALD.