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Toddler with Cancer Inspires Maryland Teacher to Run Half-Marathon

Brooke Riggs and her mother

Inspired by a 22-month-old little girl, Heather Wilhelm of Keedysville, Maryland and 30 running teammates will take on the St. Jude’s Country Music Marathon & Half-Marathon on April 27th in Nashville.  Wilhelm will run along-side her sister, Sarah, and husband, Walter, in their first distance race.

The group trained together and each raised funds to support St. Jude’s pediatric medical research, which today is having a direct impact on 22-month-old Brooke Riggs.  Brooke, who was diagnosed in January with a type of cancer called neuroblastoma, is receiving a special treatment developed at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for patients her age.

“Although she is still considered a high risk patient, it warms my heart to hear that she’s able to be at home now between treatments,” said Wilhelm. “Lately she’s even playing outside with her older sister, Paige, just like a regular toddler.”

Life has been anything but normal for the Riggs family since January, when doctors found a large tumor was leaning against Brooke’s kidney, and discovered the cancer had advanced to stage four.  Brooke’s mother, a middle school math teacher, left school to be with her. Other teachers at the middle school, like Heather, have donated their leave time so she doesn’t have to worry about a paycheck.

“The school has been wonderful,” said Wilhelm. “Even the students know about Brooke and how brave she’s been through treatment, and they’ve held fundraisers to help the family meet medical expenses.”

Wilhelm’s idea to run the half-marathon in Brooke’s honor came from WFRE radio, which was forming a team for the Country Music Marathon that would raise funds for St. Jude, which conducts important research to help critically ill children, and never charges its patients for care.

“It was a perfect connection for me,” said Wilhelm. “This way I can help Brooke and other children like her by raising money for cancer research, and Brooke can help by inspiring us to get to the finish line. I think of her every time I run. When I’m tired and I want to quit running, I think of Brooke. She doesn’t have the choice to quit – and neither should I.”

“I also run to be appreciative of what I have. My girls are healthy, and I’m thankful for that,” she said.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®, one of the world’s premier centers for the research and treatment of pediatric cancer and other deadly childhood diseases, is the title partner and official benefiting charity of the St. Jude Country Music Marathon. Participants running the race and fundraising as St. Jude Heroes are working to raise $1.8 million.  The mission of St. Jude is to find cures for children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases through research and treatment.  The hospital has played a pivotal role in pushing U.S. pediatric cancer survival rates from 20 to 80 percent overall.  And, no family ever pays St. Jude for the care their child receives.  For every child treated at St. Jude, thousands more have been saved worldwide through its discoveries.


Heather Wilhelm is running the half marathon for Brooke