Caps cheer cancer children
Celebrity-signed items bring smiles
It started as a simple gesture. Stephen D. Heinrich, MD, clinical professor and surgeon, department of orthopaedics, Children's Hospital in New Orleans, La., wanted to give his young cancer patient a small token that he believed would help cheer him up-an autographed baseball cap.
"I wanted to see a smile on his face," said Dr. Heinrich. "So, I gave him a baseball cap signed by the coach of Auburn University, one of his favorite football teams. His face just lit up, and that is when I knew how one small item could make a difference in a patient's life."
It was at this moment that Dr. Heinrich decided to form "Caps for Kids," a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing baseball caps and scarves signed by athletes, entertainers and other notable personalities to children with cancer when they lose their hair from chemotherapy.
Dr. Heinrich has collected more than 10,000 caps and scarves. He has received autographed caps and scarves from celebrities like Hillary Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Mark McGuire, Brett Favre, Leo DiCaprio, Rosie O'Donnell, Tom Cruise and even some NASA astronauts. Patients request certain autographed caps or scarves, and if Dr. Heinrich has it in stock, the item is sent to the patient.
To obtain the baseball caps and scarves, Dr. Heinrich, along with many volunteers, engage in massive letter writing campaigns to famous athletes and celebrities around the world. He also has received a lot of help from the media.
Charles Osgood mentioned the "Caps for Kids" on a radio program, providing the first national exposure. After the program aired, many hospitals in the U.S. and Canada contacted Dr. Heinrich for information on how they might get involved in the program.
He also was featured in People magazine earlier this year. "These articles and interviews help bring the program to the attention of many people," Dr. Heinrich said. "We always get a lot of donations and inquiries once an interview has been published or aired."
But, right now, Dr. Heinrich also is looking for some help from the orthopaedic community. He would like orthopaedic surgeons to get their hospitals to implement the "Caps for Kids" programs for the young cancer patients who they treat. Contact Dr. Heinrich's office at (504) 896-9569 or send a fax to (504) 896-9849.
"I recently received a request from a young child in Mississippi who wanted a baseball cap signed by Mark McGuire," Dr. Heinrich said. "Thankfully, I was able to get the cap, and send it. One week later, the patient died. But, his parents told me that they were able to give him the cap before his death, and for the first time in a long while, he smiled. Quite simply, that's why I am committed to this program."