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CONTACT: COLEEN MADDY
8798 John Pappajohn Pavilion
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-9171
e-mail: coleen-maddy@uiowa.edu

Release: June 3, 1999

Iowa City girl is ‘true champion’ on Children’s Miracle Network

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Not all champions are decided in the sports arena or at the bridge table. For some, the title comes from undaunted courage and gentle grace in the face of debilitating adversity. Such is the case of little Alexandria Gaston, six-year-old daughter of Calvin and Laura Gaston of Iowa City.

The story of her ongoing struggle with cancer will be told on the Children's Miracle Network (CMN) "Weekend of Champions" telecast from at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 5 until 5 p.m. Sunday, June 6. Twenty-minute segments are broadcast hourly live from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics by KGAN-TV, Channel 2 Cedar Rapids; KCCI-TV, Channel 8, Des Moines; WQAD-TV, Channel 8, Quad-Cities; and KIMT-TV, Channel 3, Mason City. Locally, CMN has raised more than $8 million to support pediatric services including the Children's Hospital of Iowa at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

The national telecast is aired from Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. and features a host of celebrities including Marie Osmond and John Schneider. The Osmond family, Mick Shannon, Joe Lake and John Schneider launched CMN nationally in 1983; UI Hospitals and Clinics joined the program a year later.

Alexandria Gaston is one of several children highlighted as "champions" that will appear live or on videotape during the 21-hour telecast. Her ordeal began last summer when she complained of pain in her right arm.

"Then one day in July as she was doing cartwheels, Alex was accidentally bumped by a little friend," Laura Gaston said. "She experienced a lot of pain. At first we thought it was bursitis. On Aug. 4, we took her in for her immunization shots, including chicken pox, and noticed a mass on her arm. A biopsy confirmed that it was bone cancer and they began treating her with chemotherapy."

Unfortunately, Alexandria got chicken pox from the vaccine, and they were forced to suspend the chemotherapy treatment until it was gone.

"On Sept. 21 we noticed the mass was growing," Gaston said. "That night, Alex slipped and fell on her elbows. The impact broke the tumor and she spent a week in the hospital in a great deal of pain despite being on a morphine drip."

A CAT scan indicated the arm would have to be amputated, and on Sept. 27 Joseph Buckwalter, M.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery, performed the surgery.

Gaston said her daughter has "adapted very well. She is a very mature child and remains independent. Often when I start to do something for her, she'll say, 'No, Mom. I can do it.' Actually, she has done better than we have--it's always harder on the parents."

All went well for the family -- until a regular CAT scan on April 15 found evidence of lesions in Alexandria's lung. "The cancer had spread and that's not good news," Gaston said.

On April 23, Kemp Kernstine, M.D., assistant professor of surgery, performed a "cherry picking" procedure and removed 11 lesions from the lung.

"They nearly doubled the chemotherapy dosage and added a new one," Gaston said. "We don't really know what's down the road. You just do everything you can."

Alexandria's primary physician, Thomas W. Loew, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, describes the Gastons as "absolutely wonderful. They've shown a great deal of courage and strength. They work very well together to do what's best. They are the model you like to see."

As for Alexandria, Loew says she is "very strong willed. She has a beautiful, angelic smile. I remember looking in on her after the chest surgery. She was there in bed, really hurting. I asked her how she was doing and she came right back in a tiny, little voice, 'fine.' She's such a great kid."

He agreed that Alexandria is truly a champion, one who epitomizes a winning spirit and will to survive against great odds.

Loew believes there is a reasonable chance that the chemotherapy treatments will prevent a recurrence of the cancer. "We certainly would not be doing all this if there were no hope," he said.

The UI Hospitals and Clinics telecast features hosts Michele Hall and Brian Roche, KGAN-TV, Channel 2, Cedar Rapids; Mollie Cooney, KCCI-TV, Channel 8, Des Moines; Mike Kleinstub, WQAD-TV, Channel 8, Quad Cities; and Pete Hjelmstad and Amy Kuns, KIMT-TV, Channel 3, Mason City, asking viewers to call in pledges. All of the money raised locally goes to UI Hospitals and Clinics for equipment, research and items to make the children's stay more comfortable.

In addition to videotaped vignettes featuring children who received treatment at the Children's Hospital of Iowa at UI Hospitals and Clinics, the telecast spotlights current young patients. It also portrays CMN sponsors manning telephone banks in the main studio where the hosts chat with volunteers and others who played a major role in raising money for CHI during the year.