In the three years since the death of their daughter Lizzy to osteosarcoma, Jennifer and John Wampler and their surviving children have been staunch supporters of efforts to combat the disease. Their family foundation, Lizzy’s Walk of Faith, has been a regular fundraiser for St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, where Lizzy was treated, but now, they also have aligned with the Osteosarcoma Institute to focus on the disease that took Lizzy’s life.
“We wanted to fine-tune our vision for how we were helping patients and felt it would be best if we targeted a bit more specifically,” says Jennifer. “What impacted us the most is osteosarcoma, not just pediatric cancer in general. Our daughter needed a cure for osteosarcoma.”
Last year, the Wamplers partnered their family’s foundation with OSI to donate to one of the three bone cancer research grants the institute has committed to funding in 2021 and, as a result of their contribution, they will be participate in the process.
“We want to make a difference,” John says of his interest in osteosarcoma research funding opportunities. “We want something deeper, and this is like a stake to tell people who support us that there were 26 proposals and Lizzy’s name will be on top of one of them. I’m just so proud and honored to have a seat at the table, because this is no small matter.”
A Targeted Approach
The Wamplers represent one of two organizations — family fund donors — that have committed to being osteosarcoma grant donors, contributing more than $50,000 to OSI and, as a result, they may choose which project they would like to support.
“I’d like to believe that whatever we choose, it’s going to help some child in some way, whether it lessens a side effect or just makes life a little easier,” says Jennifer. “I’d like to believe that we are helping and not just hoping.”
After the selection of the grants, OSI Director, Lee Helman, MD, and Chand Khanna, DVM, PhD, Strategic Advisory Board Chair, presented the Wamplers with background and insight into each project so they could make their decision. Once they choose, they’ll meet with the chief investigator for a personalized presentation.
“Our passion really is pinpointing osteosarcoma and going after it instead of just throwing money out like a shotgun approach,” says John. “I mean, this is personal. The fact that the government only spends less than 1% on osteosarcoma research — and less than 4% on pediatric cancer? I believe Lizzy deserves more.”
Jennifer says she’s thrilled by the swiftness with which their donation will go to work.
“I like the idea of just getting in there and trying to help patients as quickly as possible,” she says. “Osteosarcoma is just horrible, so anything that you can do right away to help a child, I want to do that.”
Another aspect of the program that appeals to the Wamplers is the involvement they’ll have in their chosen project. Every six months, they will receive a detailed progress report.
“I think that’s a very wise way to set up your institute, to gather families like ours, who have been broken by this disease,” says Jennifer. “And to say, you know what? We’re not going to cast you aside. You’re not just a statistic. You see this problem, so come with us and let’s help bring some light and healing to this.”
John says he and Jennifer are inspired by Dr. Helman and everyone at OSI who shares the passion his family brings to their work.
“We’re not complacent,” he says. “No, we’re attacking this. We want to be on the front lines. We have that passion, we have that fire, we have desire. And it’s not going to go out until we see progress.”
Honoring Lizzy’s Legacy
The Wamplers know that Lizzy would want them to help other children and support science, which was her favorite subject in school.
“She loved to learn. She loved to discover. She had a joy for it,” says John. “That’s the mentality that everybody needs, to have that passion that we are going to learn something, we’re going to discover something and hopefully improve treatment for osteosarcoma.”
In the meantime, the Wamplers wish to provide comfort to other families going through what they did.
“This is a gruesome disease,” says Jennifer. “And we were greatly impacted watching Lizzy go through this. Toward the end of her life, she said, ‘I don’t want any of the other child to hear the words there’s nothing else we can do for you.’ She loved her life. Even after 15 months being away from home and being in the hospital, she still loved her life and wanted to live. And I mean, forever, that’s going to be our mission…. We know that Lizzy would be joyful and happy and want other children to have a better outcome than she did. And that’s enough to keep us going.”