On May 5, 2016, Humans of New York introduced us to Dr. Richard O’Reilly, the Chairman of Pediatrics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for over thirty years. Dr. O’Reilly is a leading expert on bone marrow transplants and pioneered an approach that is now used to treat over 2,500 patients annually. His mentality is that he and his team have failed if they don’t save every single kid.
The fundraiser shares that though all types of cancer are devastating, pediatric cancer is especially overwhelming because pharmaceutical companies are not incentivized to develop treatments for cancers that develop during childhood, making funding scarce. Nearly all funding for pediatric cancer comes from private donations, and in honor of Dr. O’Reilly’s upcoming retirement, Humans of New York wanted to aid the fight against pediatric cancer by sharing stories from doctors, nurses, researchers, parents, families and the children themselves.
In just over two weeks, more than 100,000 people donated more than $3.8 million to an incredible and worthy cause, making this fundraiser the largest on Generosity – ever. The stories Humans of New York shared took us through the emotional rollercoaster of life and experiencing the impact of pediatric cancer on human lives.
We had the opportunity to get to know Dr. O’Reilly and ask him three questions about his career, research and excitement about the fundraiser.
You’ve been the Chairman of Pediatrics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for over thirty years. Why did you choose this specialty, and why is it important to you?
The idea of becoming a doctor occurred to me relatively early in life. My grandfather was a physician and a professor. When I was a medical student, a child I was caring for died of leukemia, which drew me to treating children with cancer.
What recent breakthrough in pediatric cancer research are you most excited about? How will the funds from the fundraiser help further this (or other) research?
First, let me say I believe we have the finest and most experienced teams at MSK. There are many breakthroughs that I’m excited about. We’ve made enormous progress in bone marrow and stem cell transplantation. We’re also developing targeted antibodies and other approaches to treat neuroblastoma and other tumors that use the immune system to attack cancer cells. We are applying new knowledge gained every day. Our scientists and physicians are developing cell-based therapies that save lives using recent breakthroughs in molecular biology and genetics. The funds raised by this campaign will help us continue to develop new ideas, techniques, and targeted therapies. Our goal is to effectively control and cure childhood cancers while minimizing side effects and long-term effects in growing kids.
What are you most proud of that you hope can be carried forward after your retirement?
Naturally, I am most proud of my patients and their families. Their strength and courage inspire and humble me every day. And of course the brilliance and dedication of my MSK colleagues is source of tremendous pride. At MSK, the commitment to patients is alive in every corner of this place — from the researchers in their labs to the people who clean patients’ rooms. It’s what defines us and what I know will go on long after me.
To view the stories upon which the fundraiser is based, visit www.facebook.com/humansofny
View the fundraiser and donate to Let’s Help Dr. O’Reilly End Pediatric Cancer.