The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute is a big place, with a staff in the thousands working every day to improve the health of children.
As such, CHOP Research is the source of a lot of big stories, about big advances against big diseases. But CHOP Research is also a place where individuals quietly work on their own to better children’s lives, often volunteering their time.
One of these is Sharan Kaur, a CHOP Research administrator. For the past several years, Kaur has been a volunteer for Medals4Mettle, a non-profit organization that collects and distributes runners’ marathon and triathlon medals to patients “fighting debilitating illnesses who might not be able to run a race, but are in a race of their own just to continue to live,” according to the Medals4Mettle website.
Kaur, a runner and triathlete herself, first became involved with Medals4Mettle after reading about the organization in Runner’s World. Though she began as a chapter coordinator, Kaur recently took on the role of president of Medals4Mettle, which has expanded widely since it was founded in 2005. Medals4Mettle has spread to a total of 31 states, and has chapters in Canada, Japan, and Mexico; the organization also recently opened a chapter in South Korea on a U.S. Air Force base.
To date, Medals4Mettle has distributed approximately 23,000 medals, Kaur said.
While many Medals4Mettle chapters hand out medals at events, at Children’s Hospital medals are given to bone marrow transplant patients on transplant day, so clinical staff and caregivers give out the medals rather than Medals4Mettle volunteers. Kaur has partnered with CHOP’s child life specialists — specially trained staff members who help families and patients cope with treatment — to distribute 20-25 medals to patients every few months.
Stephanie Fooks-Parker MSW, LSW, a CHOP social worker, works with Kaur to distribute the medals to bone marrow patients on their transplant day. She tries to match specific medals to individual patients — such as a Liberty Bell medal for an international patient visiting Philadelphia, or a “Rock Star” medal for a patient who had gone through a particularly grueling course of treatment. Each patient receives a medal and a card explaining its significance.
Working with Medals4Mettle has been “such a small gesture, but it has been so rewarding for me,” Kaur said.