On a seemingly typical Tuesday afternoon in January 2018, then-6-year-old northern Scottsdale resident Bridget Korn was at soccer practice when a fellow player accidentally kicked her in the shin.
“It was a proud ‘mom moment;’ I told her to go back in and rub some dirt on it,” her mother, Jamie Korn, said, thinking Bridget would brush it off and be just fine.
But what they thought would merely become a bruise became something much more life-threatening.
Bridget, now 7, was still in pain that following Saturday, and after heading to the hospital and receiving several tests, including x-rays and an MRI, the doctors diagnosed her on Feb. 2 with osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children and teens.
Korn and Bridget flew to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where doctors determined Bridget’s right foot needed to be amputated as part of her treatment, which also included chemotherapy.
“Usually with growing kids, you pass it off as an injury and you’re fine; so we're so, so grateful that it happened, that she was diagnosed as quickly as she did,” Korn said.
Korn will tell Bridget’s story – as well as share Bridget’s positive experience receiving treatment for nine months at St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee – at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s third annual “A Night in the Crimson Tide” gala on April 5 at The Clayton House in Old Town Scottsdale.
The gala will include special guest appearances from Bridget and her family.
Pat Bondurant of Paradise Valley, the 2019 honoree of the Letitia Frye Humanitarian Award, will also be recognized for donating her time and resources to help raise millions of dollars for hundreds of charities, including St. Jude.
“This award represents every child, parent, doctor, researcher, staff member and dedicated donor whom I’ve had the privilege to know during my journey with St. Jude,” said Letitia Frye, a local philanthropist and auctioneer after whom the award is named.
“Each of them has left an indelible impression upon my heart and it is my honor to present the award to someone who embodies the same qualities that make St. Jude such a wonderful organization,” she added.
Last year’s gala raised $174,000 to support St. Jude research, education, training and care for patients like Bridget to ensure St. Jude families never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food.
For Korn, fundraisers like this gala allow St. Jude to take quick action for their patients and at no cost to them. In Bridget’s case, that meant giving her a cast immediately after her foot was amputated.
“In a typical hospital environment – and an insurance environment – she would have had her first cast change at about four weeks,” Korn said, adding:
“[St. Jude] didn't have to wait for our insurance company. They said, ‘Bridget needs a cast change. We're going to do that.’ And they can do that because they rely on fundraising and donors and generous people that opened their hearts to these kids that are going through such a challenging time in their life.”
Korn also sees this gala as an opportunity to talk about Bridget’s journey and how the hospital and its staff have impacted their lives.
“Everybody that we came across and met became friends and family, and everybody took us under their wing and wanted to do everything they could for us while we were there. It was amazing what they would do for the kids – and what they still continue to do for us,” she said.
According to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, osteosarcoma is the third most common cancer in teens, after lymphomas and brain tumors. The cancer occurs most often in children and young adults, typically after age 10.
And each year in the United States, about 400 children and teens younger than age 20 are diagnosed.
Doctors caught the cancer early in Bridget; and although she finished treatment and has since returned home to Scottsdale in November, she’s still battling the effects of chemo.
“She had a blood clot in her heart and [she has] permanent hearing loss,” Korn said, adding Bridget now wears hearing aids.
Bridget also broke her femur on her amputated leg recently. At this time, Korn learned Bridget has a severe weakening of her bone and had titanium nails put in her leg – all as a result of the chemotherapy.
“Everybody always thinks that once treatment ends, treatment ends; but cancer is a lifelong diagnosis, not just in the amount of time of treatment, but what the treatment does to your body forever,” Korn said. “She'll have prosthesis the rest of her life. So [there are] lots of things that will never end and we'll continue monitoring.”
As of now, Bridget has no evidence of disease, “which is amazing,” Korn said.
Bridget remains a fighter through it all, even if the initial diagnosis scared her.
Korn remembers the day she received the phone call vividly.
“I remember getting down on my knees, face level with her as she was recovering from her biopsy; she was laying on the couch with an ice pack,” Korn said. “I looked at her and I said, ‘Bridget, we were hoping it was going to be a bone infection, but they said that they had found cancer,' and she looked at me and she shook her head and was crying and she said, ‘No, mommy, no.’”
Korn’s son Brennan, 12, took the news hard, too.
“Not only was he terrified of what cancer can do, but he was worried also about not being with his mom,” Korn said. “You could see how it affected him emotionally and how it affected him at school. He cried himself to sleep every single night. It's absolutely heartbreaking and challenging.”
Korn didn’t cry; instead, she built Bridget up.
“Although I've cried I don't know how many times before that and how many times since, I said to her, ‘You're strong. You're a fighter and you're going to be best and we're going to beat it together.’ And we've just remained strong like that through not only the diagnosis but all of the treatment,” Korn said.
Shortly after Bridget was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a GoFundMe crowdfunding effort was set up to raise $100,000. Since, over $72,000 has been raised for Bridget.
Bridget knew what cancer was and was well aware of how devastating the disease is. Her grandfather had just passed away from cancer, and her friend Lily had a brain tumor.
Bridget even helped Korn raise $20,000 in 2016 for Lily via St. Jude’s Ride for a Reason fundraiser. Lily wasn’t a patient at St. Jude, but she did benefit from St. Jude’s trials, Korn said.
“I have a picture of [Bridget] holding a sign a year ago to the day of her amputation saying, ‘I want to help kids with cancer,’” Korn said.
During the fundraiser, Korn flew out to Memphis to tour the St. Jude facility; Little did she know she would return two years later.
“I was well aware of [St. Jude] for the fundraising that we had done, both Bridget and myself, so I knew what an amazing facility it was,” Korn said.
When Bridget was diagnosed, St. Jude covered transportation and lodging costs, as well as free shuttle services back and forth to the hospital every day.
They also provided the Korn family with a support system.
“Doctors and staff treated you like family,” Korn said. “From alcohol wipes to anti-nausea medication, it didn't matter what it was, they were willing to help you every second of every day. They were there and they care for their patients, the patients, first and foremost. It's just unbelievable.”
While Bridget and Korn were patients at St. Jude, Lily qualified for a trial at St. Jude and Bridget was able to welcome her to the facility in October.
“[Lily’s] cancer and her tumor significantly shrunk, so we're just so excited for her and for the family and in an indirect way we were able to help Lily, as well,” Korn said.
Though they’re no longer patients at St. Jude, Korn said the staff continues to reach out to this day to check in on Bridget.
“As soon as Bridget broke her femur, we received emails from the doctors and the nurses and her orthopedic surgeon checking on Bridget and finding out how she was doing,” Korn said. “We’re still a patient in their minds, and they're always thinking about her and caring for her.”
Korn emphasizes how important it is for her to share Bridget’s story at the gala and to spread awareness of St. Jude’s services.
“I like to make people aware of the opportunity that we had and what St Jude can do for families like ours as well as what they can do for research and trying to find a cure so that no child has to go through what Bridget did,” she said.