Jeff Gordon helps fund cancer research with foundation

Since 1999, Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation has been helping fund cancer research.

One recipient of money from the foundation is Riley Children’s Foundation.

Gordon’s foundation recently created a $1 million endowment to fund research conducted in partnership between Riley Hospital and the Wells Center for Pediatric Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine. The remaining $5000,000 will go towards “immediate research needs” at Riley Hospital.

“Jeff’s commitment to Riley Hospital is in pursuit of our goal,  the race to cure pediatric cancer,” Kevin O’Keefe, president and CEO of Riley Children’s Foundation, said. “Jeff understand the vital role research plays in securing a healthy future for children, and we are grateful for his 11 years of dedicated support to Riley.”

Gordon said his introduction to cancer and how it affect those diagnosed with it and their families was when his first crew chief, Ray Evernham’s son was diagnosed with leukemia. During that time, Gordon and Evernham did some work involving leukemia patients, meeting kids through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and visiting various children’s hospitals.

“My experience has been that through the years you have success stories as well as failures,” Gordon said. “Tonight we want to celebrate the success stories but we also want to not forget the ones that have been lost.”

On July 26 at Western Bowl in Indianapolis, Gordon hosted his eleventh annual bowling tournament that benefits the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation Pediatric Cancer Research Fund at Riley Hospital for Children.

“We are so proud to have raised $2 million in support for Riley Hospital for Children during this event’s eleven-year history,” Gordon said in a press release. “Funds raised create hope for kids with cancer. Research is out top priority for discovering a cure.”

Each year Gordon takes time to visit children and their families at Riley Hospital.

“That is what it is all about, visiting them in-person,” Gordon said. “Especially now as a parent, speaking to the parents, seeing how far they traveled and what they have to go through.”

Gordon also annually invites children that have received cancer treatment at Riley along with their families to the bowling tournament. This year’s event was a disco themed celebration, titled “Jeff Gordon’s Get Your Groove On.”

One of the children who received an invitation was Eli Dilts, an 8-year-old boy from Bloomington who was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a highly aggressive brain tumor, in December 2010.

His journey began with what appeared to be a simple and treatable condition to something much more.

“He had been having pretty severe headaches to the point they became debilitating," Angela Dilts, Eli’s mother, said. “We took him in for a check up and they treated him for a sinus infection. But it never got better.”

As part of a follow-up visit, doctors performed a CT scan of Eli’s head at Bloomington Hospital.

Angela said she was hoping they just found a sinus infection. It was much worse. They discovered Eli had a brain tumor.

“That night they sent us directly to Riley,” Angela said. “The next day he was scheduled for surgery the next morning for tumor removal.”

Eli endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments for months. His last chemotherapy treatment was one-year ago Thursday, his mother said.

“Very good news recently,” Angela Dilts said. “He had his last scans at the beginning of June and it was all clear.”

Eli’s spirits were high Thursday night. Sporting his yellow “Jeff Gordon’s Get Your Grove On” t-shirt, he strolled up and down the walkway with the assistance of his blue four-wheeled walker with  a constant smile on his face.

Given where he lives, it is predictable that he is a fan of Hoosier basketball and Colts football. Despite everything the boy had gone through, he still has a sense of humor.

“They will probably do better because they had (Curtis) Painter all year,” he said when asked how he thought the Colts would do this year.

Gordon understands the importance of helping children like Eli Dilts.

“I believe it’s all of our duty to give back,” Gordon said. “But when you have had the success I have had and you have the opportunities you are able to do it at a whole new level.”

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