From Tragedy Comes Inspiration: Kristen Gillette

After losing her daughter to a rare form of cancer, Kristen Gillette created the Kortney Rose Foundation to raise funds for pediatric brain tumor research, education and awareness.

Kristen Gillette's charity, the Kortney Rose Foundation, has raised $740,000 for pediatric brain cancer research.
Photo by John Emerson

Kortney Gillette was much like every other 9-year-old Oceanport kid. An avid soccer and basketball player, she particularly loved amusement parks. Then the headaches started. In December 2005, Kortney was diagnosed with a brain tumor called brain stem giloma. Within a few months, she succumbed to this rare form of cancer.

“As soon as she was diagnosed, we knew there was no hope,” says Kortney’s mother, Kristen Gillette. Determined to channel her grief to positive ends, Gillette created the Kortney Rose Foundation, a nonprofit raising funds to support pediatric brain tumor research, education and awareness.

“The foundation is not only a way to honor Kortney’s memory, but it improved awareness and, most importantly, raised funds to support research,” says Robert Barr, Gillette’s brother-in-law and a member of the foundation’s advisory board. He adds, “I don’t know if you have ever known someone who lost a child to brain cancer, but it’s devastating.”

Also devastating, Gillette and Barr have learned, is the dearth of funding for diseases like Kortney’s. Of the money the National Cancer Institute allocates for cancer research, only 4 percent goes to pediatric cancers. An even smaller fraction is allotted to pediatric brain tumor research.

To change this scenario, Gillette teamed with oncologists at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Kortney received her care there and I made a relationship with the neuro-oncologists,” she says. “The level of care they provide is just phenomenal. I often say that, even though you couldn’t save my child, I’m still supporting you.”

To date, the foundation has raised $748,000 through fundraisers such as Kortney’s Challenge, a two-mile family fun walk, and Kortney Rose Family Day at the Races in Monmouth Park. Both events are held annually in August. Kortney’s Coins, an initiative in elementary and middle schools, encourages kids to raise money on their own. All foundation proceeds go toward tumor research at the Children’s Hospital.

Gillette’s short-term goal is for the foundation to hit the $1 million mark. But, she says, there’s more to the foundation’s work. “It’s all about the kids,” she says. “We inspire children to raise money, and that in turn inspires me.”

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