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Sweet inspiration behind Gracie’s Fund for leukemia research

Gracie's battle with cancer inspired The Original Murdick’s Fudge of Mackinac Island to support Gracie's Fund for leukemia research at Mott Children's Hospital.

At age four, Gracie Irish was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

“My husband and I were in complete shock,” says Gracie’s mom, Amy Irish. “We were numb.”

After sharing news of Gracie’s diagnosis, friends of the Irish family recommended they visit C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital for treatment.  Acting on the recommendation, Gracie was airlifted from their hometown hospital to Mott by U-M’s Survival Flight crew.

Amy remembers this first interaction with U-M staff vividly.

“I was sobbing at this moment and a member of the flight crew immediately came over to reassure me,” she says. “He said, ‘don’t worry, she’s going to a great place – my own son was treated at Mott and is now a successful college student.’  It gave me a sense of hope from the very start.”

Even as Amy and her husband watched Gracie, now nine, battle several rounds of chemotherapy, doctors urged them to not lose hope.  The U-M team always reminded the family that they were committed to ensuring Gracie would be able to return to the horseback riding and drama lessons she loved.

“I never felt like I was going to lose her to this,” Amy says.

In 2008, following two years of intense treatment at Mott, things settled down for Gracie, who enjoyed a summer with few complications.

It was around the winter holidays when Gracie began to complain of pain in her leg, initially attributed to a growth spurt. To be safe, they consulted Dr. Valerie Castle, M.D., Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases.

Castle discovered a benign tumor, an unfortunate and rare complication of Gracie’s leukemia. Several attempts to surgically remove the mass were unsuccessful, as the tumor grew back each time.

Determined to tackle Gracie’s condition head-on, Castle invited her colleagues to help consider a treatment plan.

“It was very hard because there was so little known about this tumor.  Plenty of doctors from all over the country weighed in on it but they didn’t have any proof that this next treatment would work for her,” Amy says. “At the time we felt very frustrated.”

In hopes of eliminating the tumor that plagued her for so long, Gracie was given an experimental drug, thalidomide. At their first follow-up after starting the drug, the Irish family was thrilled to learn that the drug was working.

The mass in Gracie’s leg began shrinking.

Experimental therapies like the one Gracie received are made available to patients through clinical trials, which help determine the effectiveness of new medications and treatments. Access to many clinical trials is only available through a handful of leading children’s hospitals, but fortunately for Gracie and her family, Mott is one such institution and the care they needed was available to them close to home.

Remarkable treatment options are available for children diagnosed with leukemia, but for children who relapse or have complications, as Gracie did, resources are limited. To discover effective treatment plans for children with leukemia complications, the Irish family believes more research is necessary.

Inspired by the innovative research and collaborative approach to medicine at U-M, the Irish family has established a fund in Gracie’s name to help support continued leukemia research at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“Gracie’s experience ignited within our family a passion to make a difference,” says Amy Irish. “She remains a vibrant source of inspiration in our lives and we are forever grateful for the care she received at Mott Children’s Hospital.”

Since its establishment in 2010, Gracie’s Fund had donated more than $6,000 to pediatric research.

To support Gracie’s Fund, The Original Murdick’s Fudge of Mackinac Island has donated 100 percent of the proceeds from sales of their popular fudge during a spring fundraiser at Cranbrook Schools and North Hill Elementary in Rochester, MI.

Murdick’s will also be running a “season of support for Mott” by donating a portion of proceeds of total summer fudge sales at their Mackinac Island and St. Ignace stores.

— Written by Lauren McLeod

Become a Building Block of Mott:

  • To place an order for Murdick’s fudge and support Gracie’s fund, visit:  http://mackinac.murdicks.com/
  • Become a building block of Mott. To send a gift to Gracie’s Fund, call 734-998-6069 or visit us online
  • Meet Dr. Valerie Castle and watch her video profile on our website.

The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked as one of the best hospitals in the country. The pediatric cancer program at Mott was ranked among the top programs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. In November, the hospital moves to a new 1.1 million square feet, $754 million state-of-the-art facility that will be home to cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.