Members of the Irish American community in New York opened their hearts and wallets in 2008 for Grace O’Gorman, diagnosed with the deadly childhood cancer neuroblastoma at only 18-months-old. Yet now Grace is officially disease free after years of in- and out-patient treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
The Cork Association of New York led the way in fundraising for the O’Gormans. More than $100,000 was raised to help with medical bills and expenses the family incurred during their nearly year-long stay in the city while Grace was undergoing treatment. Kevin O’Gorman, Grace’s Passage West, Co. Cork-born father, says the family wouldn’t have made it through without the huge amount of local support.
“I can’t say thank you enough to everyone in New York,” said O’Gorman during an interview with the Irish Voice.
“Grace is happy and well and thriving. She is a star, and we want everyone to know how well she is doing and how much their support meant to us.”
The O’Gormans – civil engineer Kevin, his Co. Waterford-born doctor wife Millicent, Grace and her big sister Alice, then six – were living in Bath, England when their world turned upside down in October of 2007. Grace was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma at a hospital in Bristol. Her distraught parents were told their toddler’s chances of survival were only around 20 percent if she remained in the U.K.
The world renowned Sloan Kettering was having much greater success curing the disease, with 80 percent of its young patients going into remission. The O’Gormans decided immediately to uproot their lives and relocate to New York to give Grace her best chance of survival.
The emotional and financial toll was massive – the eventual bill from Sloan came close to $1 million, not including drugs and other expenses – so supporters of the family went into overdrive to help ease their burden when they arrived in New York in January of 2008, after completing an initial round of chemotherapy in the U.K.
Mary Naughton, a cousin of O’Gorman’s who lives in New York, told the local Cork Association about Grace’s plight. Mae O’Driscoll, the long-time local activist and Cork Association officer, organized fundraisers and spread the word far and wide.
“People couldn’t have been nicer to us. We were overwhelmed with the kindness,” said O’Gorman.
“There was Mae doing everything she could, and then we met Mary O’Dowd from the Frances Pope Memorial Foundation which offered to pay some of our bills. Just incredible people.”
Grace had successful surgery to remove her tumor not long after her January 2008 arrival, and a couple of months later she started on Sloan’s groundbreaking 3F8 antibody treatment. She endured the physical pain of the regimen like a champ, her dad recalled, and also underwent daily grueling radiation at the same time. Luckily her body didn’t develop a resistance to the antibody, and her treatments continued at Sloan for several months.
The little fighter’s health took a turn for the worse in September of 2008. After Grace’s discharge from Sloan the O’Gormans opted to move to Toronto so they could be relatively close to New York and also begin a semblance of normal life, as Millicent had accepted a job there.
They never made it to the Canadian border as they noticed Grace limping on a stop in upstate Rochester. Millicent returned immediately to New York with her daughter, and tests showed Grace had a lesion on her brain. She quickly had surgery which proved to be successful, followed by more radiation, chemotherapy and new antibody brain treatment that required the insertion of a needle into the top of her skull.
The family alternated between New York and Toronto while Grace underwent treatment, and returned to Bath in July of 2010. Grace was able to attend school in Canada with her sister and slowly began to build her strength after years of drugs that would debilitate most people, but “not Grace,” her father proudly said.
“She was so tough. She never ever complained,” O’Gorman added.
The family made regular trips from the U.K. to Sloan until 2012, when Grace reached the five-year point in her long and arduous cancer journey. At that point her doctors proclaimed her cancer free. Another visit to her Sloan team in October of last year delivered music to the O’Gormans’ ears.
“The doctor said that Sloan is for children with cancer, and Grace doesn’t have cancer so she didn’t belong there,” O’Gorman said.
“I can’t describe the sense of relief. I still get very emotional thinking about it.”
Today, nine-year-old Grace is a great student who loves to swim, act and be with her sister Alice, now 13. The only drug she takes is a growth hormone that she self-injects every day. She has an infectious, outgoing personality her proud father says.
“She’s not afraid to step forward every single day. The word shy isn’t in Grace’s vocabulary,” he laughed.
Fundraising efforts in the U.K. for the O’Gormans also topped $100,000. Their family and supporters in Ireland raised an incredible €700,000, close to $1 million at the time.
Grace’s final bill from Sloan was settled only a few weeks ago. The O’Gorman’s used to own two houses and other assets. They are gone, but they received something priceless in return – a clean bill of health for Grace.
“We don’t know how to thank everyone in New York enough,” O’Gorman said.