Executive, wife leave careers to raise money for children with brain tumors

September 11, 1994|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

Mike Traynor of Atlanta was a vice president of marketing and sales for a suburban newspaper chain in 1980 when a co-worker became the father of a daughter born with a malignant brain tumor.

The event was to change Mr. Traynor's life.

"It's amazing, the child is still alive today, but when she was born the doctors gave her a 2 percent chance of surviving," he said. "Her parents took her all over the country seeking the best treatment.

"Some were old treatments -- they used to put high doses of radiation into the brain, but that gave her skull cancer when she was 7, and she had to have surgery to remove the affected part of the skull."

The child's cancer recurred about five years ago and she has so many physical and mental problems, he said, that she will be dependent on her parents for the rest of her life. The tragedy made such an impact on Mr. Traynor that in 1983 he decided to raise money for research into this deadly childhood disease.

"I'd been a motorcyclist for many years, and I got the idea one day of doing something with motorcycles that would get the attention of the media," he said in a telephone interview from Monterey, Calif., where he was attending an event for the Ride For Kids Foundation.

In 1984 he set up the Ride for Kids Foundation. The first ride in Atlanta drew 100 motorcyclists who raised $4,000 for childhood brain tumor research.

Today, the foundation sponsors 12 events in 10 states. Over the years, Ride for Kids has raised more than $2.5 million, all of which has gone into various areas of childhood brain tumor research, Mr. Traynor said. Prizes, food, police escorts and ride sites all are donated by local businesses and organizations, in addition to American Honda Motor Co., the foundation's principal corporate sponsor. After the first ride, Mr. Traynor thought his job was done -- until he started meeting children who had brain tumors, then getting calls from their parents saying that their child had died.

In 1991, he was a pallbearer for a girl in Atlanta who had died of a brain tumor. He decided then to devote his life to fighting childhood brain tumors. Honda accepted Mr. Traynor's proposal for the company to sponsor the foundation.

"My wife, Diane, and I both gave up our careers to do Ride For Kids full time. We realized so much needed to be done," he said. "Brain tumors have become the No. 1 killer disease of children in the United States, partly because very little money has been pumped into research."

In addition to donating money to research centers around the country, Ride For Kids has given $100,000 to creating the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States, based in Chicago.

"For many years, about 40 states gathered brain tumor information of various kinds, but the information wasn't being used, so we raised the money to put together all the information from all the states into one national registry," Mr. Traynor said.

The Traynors also are involved with the American Brain Tumor Association -- he as a member of the board, which works with the national registry to collect information.

Diane Traynor, a certified public accountant, is treasurer of the North American Brain Tumor Coalition, which includes Canada. The coalition tries to encourage legislators to fund research.

According to Carol Kruchko, chairwoman of the Chicago-based Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States, "45 percent of the cancer deaths in children through the age of 14 come from brain tumors, as opposed to 42 percent from leukemia."

The registry also works with other brain tumor research organizations to lobby for money for in actual research. Much needs to be done in the area of childhood brain tumors, Mrs. Kruchko said, including gene therapy, environmental issues and their effect on tumors, and funding for new therapies.

"The whole focus of Ride For Kids is on these kids and finding an answer to this disease and putting a stop to it once and for all, just like they did with polio," Mr. Traynor said.

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