Sometimes it’s difficult to maintain the journalist objectivity I’ve been trained to display while reporting and writing a story. This story is one of those times. This story is punctuated not only with periods and commas but with tears, my tears.
I just completed the second of my conversations/interviews with Amy Jo Osborn. She’s the president of the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer. Austin Hatcher, or “Hatch” as Amy Jo and her husband Jim called their firstborn child, died when he was nine weeks old. He seemed so perfect at birth and for his first seven weeks. And then…
And then Jim and Amy Jo were at an auto race, which is how they’d met in the first place.
Amy Jo was a photographer for Southern Living magazine and was assigned to a story about a spinal surgeon who raced cars, an amateur who went head-to-head against the professional teams supported by major automakers and even high-dollar corporate sponsors. But instead of seeking sponsorships for his own car, this doctor-driver was out raising money so he could make it possible for ailing children and their families to go to the races and have some fun.
Get Hatch to the emergency room. Go. Now.”
Back home in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hatch wasn’t himself. The pediatrician suspected a stomach virus, but by the following weekend there was an issue with the baby’s left eye and arm.
“Get Hatch to the emergency room. Go. Now.” the pediatrician told Amy Jo.
I find those words haunting. You see, I was working as a daily newspaper sportswriter when our pediatrician called my office to tell me he’d just sent Judy and our baby to the ER and that I should get there — immediately! I ignored all traffic-control signs and signals and was waiting, frantic, when they arrived at the hospital.
Like Hatch’s parents, at first we were told that it might be meningitis and tests were done. Neither Hatch nor Lindsey had meningitis. Hatch had a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Lindsey had a congenital heart defect, an hourglass-shaped aorta. She underwent surgery, the surgeon even made his incision under her left arm so she wouldn’t have a scar that showed. But it was too late; her organs hadn’t received enough blood during pregnancy. She was 12 days old when she died.
Hatch was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Cancer Center in Atlanta, where they discovered he not only had tumors on his brain but down his spine. A biopsy showed the tumors were malignant; cancer had taken over the 8-week-old baby’s central nervous system.
The pain of this is nearly unspeakable, still.”
— Amy Jo Osborn
I cried again when Amy Jo mentioned Hatch’s birthday. This story was again hitting too close to home; my birthday also is August 15.
“The pain of this is nearly unspeakable, still,” Amy Jo has written. “But that pain has created a deep desire to do all we can to help find a cure for Pediatric Cancer.”
Jim and Amy Jo met at the race track. “The DNA of his foundation has always been involved with racing,” she told me.
The racing community — the American Le Mans and its supporting series — and its racers embraced the foundation the Osborns established in Hatch’s name.
“We were not there to reinvent the wheel,” Amy Jo said, “but to provide services that weren’t being met for the families.”
The automakers got involved, and so did SEMA, the trade association of the companies that make parts for regular cars, hot rods, customs and racing cars.
Car companies donated vehicles for Barrett-Jackson to sell at its auctions. Hatch’s father sold his Volkswagen Jetta racing car at one of those auctions. It sold for $75,000 and the buyer donated it right back and it sold again. And that buyer sold it at the next Barrett-Jackson auction, and that buyer donated it back and sold it again. Eventually, through the generosity of such bidders, that car would raise more than half a million dollars for the foundation.
What does the foundation do with its money? Well, it doesn’t pay much staff. The foundation has four on its clinical staff and four additional employees — and lots of volunteers, which it needs because it does 185 events a year as it provides help to families in three areas: diversionary therapy, specialized activities that reduce the barriers to play and recreation; psycho-oncology emotional, academic and social development programs; and healthy lifestyle education to help children make lifestyle choices involving nutrition, exercise, sun safety and tobacco prevention to reduce their risk of cancer in adulthood.
This year those events will include six Autocross for Kids fund-raisers in conjunction with the Goodguys Rod and Custom Association. The suggested contribution to take a ride around the autocross course with one of the Goodguys professional drivers is $20.
Twenty bucks. That’s what, your morning stop at Starbucks or at the drive-thru window at the donut shop for a single work week? Or to put it another way: That’s less than the cost of an oil change.
Unless you’ll be at Raleigh to make a donation and take a ride, I urge you to do what I’m doing, making an immediate contribution. I’m writing a check but you also can donate through the Autocross for Kids website. And don’t feel you have to limit your contribution to $20.