Carmel family honors daughter’s memory by funding research at Riley Hospital
By Mark Ambrogi
Libby Symmes wants to make sure other children with cancer are given the fighting chance their daughter never had.
Symmes and her husband, David, launched the Caroline Symmes Endowment for Pediatric Cancer Research in 2011. Their daughter, Caroline, died at age 5 Dec. 1, 2009, after a 16-month battle with cancer.
Caroline was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor Disease, a malignant tumor of the kidney, about six weeks before she turned 4 years old. It’s a curable type of kidney cancer in kids and adults with a 90 percent survival rate, but Caroline had an aggressive tumor.
“Her tumor became more and more aggressive, and they literally looked us in the eye and said she is going to die because her tumor hadn’t been researched,” said Symmes, who moved to Carmel in 2014. “Her tumor had existed before we’re sure, but there was not enough of a tumor bank of samples to look at. They kept throwing adult drugs at her and anything they could find to try to stop the progression, and it just wouldn’t work.”
To date, the endowment has raised $2 million in gifts and pledges to support Jamie Renbarger, MD, as the Caroline Symmes Endowment Scholar. Renbarger, from Riley Hospital for Children, is leading the Pediatric Precision Genomics program.
“They need to have better drugs,” Symmes said. “They need to have better research.”
With September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, the Symmes family had their annual golf fundraiser earlier this month as well as a pre-golf backyard party with the band, Here Come the Mummies. However, Symmes stressed that finding corporate donors is really the most effective means to boost the endowment.
“The backyard parties are all well and good, but they’re not going to raise $8 million,” Symmes said.
Symmes said the endowment’s mission is to learn more about pediatric non-CNS (central nervous system) solid tumors.
Caroline was the Symmes’ first child. They have a son, Sullivan, 9, and a daughter, Natalie, 10.
“Riley physician scientists have begun impacting solid tumor research in children thanks to (the endowment)” said Cara Lathrop, Riley Children’s Foundation vice president of development, statewide initiatives. “Donor support of research at Riley Hospital helps make significant progress in the future for the health of children. Pediatric research and patient care is a fundraising priority for Riley Hospital for Children. The relationship between the Symmes family and Riley hopes to ensure all kids fighting cancer have the chance at the future they deserve.”
For more, visit carolinesymmes.org.