Suffolk County

Doctor gears up for 30th marathon to support kids with cancer

BOSTON, Mass. — A local doctor is training for his 30th Boston Marathon, leading a team that has raised more than $18 million to help kids with cancer.

Dr. Howard Weinstein, director of the childhood cancer program at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, founded MGH’s marathon team, “Fighting Kids Cancer… One Step at a Time.”

The funds raised by the team since 1998 support pediatric cancer research and critical support services including child life, art and music therapy.

At 75 years old, Weinstein said his pace gets slower each year. But the team captain, who runs in honor of his pediatric patients, shows no sign of stopping.

“I know every pothole along the marathon course, I know every crack along Heartbreak Hill. But it doesn’t get any easier… I have, I think, injured every moving part of my body,” Weinstein said, followed by a laugh. “Working in the clinic and seeing these kids and their courage and their fortitude just keeps me going. It’s so hard to say, ‘No, I’m not going to do this anymore.’”

Weinstein started the pediatric oncology team with 10 bibs from partner John Hancock. Today, they have more than 100 people running, including staff, patients and family members.

Weinstein’s first patient-partner, whom he ran in honor of 25 years ago, Kristin Santanello, was also the first former patient to run on the team when she crossed the finish line in 2011.

Santanello, who is from Swampscott, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was five years old after her dentist noticed an abnormality in her jaw. She underwent two years of chemotherapy.

Her father Dan, grateful for his daughter’s oncology team, had run 11 marathons alongside Weinstein before passing the torch to his daughter.

“I felt I had to do something to return the gratitude that I had,” Dan Santanello said. “And to be in the hands of Howard and his crew here, you just can’t put a price tag on it.”

Over the years, the doctors, nurses and marathon team became like family for the Santanellos.

Kristin, now 30 years old, living in Jersey City, N.J., works as a nurse and is engaged to be married next summer. Running the marathon was her way to thank the staff and encourage other pediatric patients and their families.

“That was a beautiful way to tip my hat back to the clinic that helped get me where I was,” she said. “I think it gave a lot back to clinic. To be able to see a former patient up there running, it gave the families a lot of hope. It gave patients a lot of hope. And that’s all I wanted.”

“There’s nothing more gratifying to see than the parents having some sense of relief or knowing what’s around the corner,” her father added.

Reuniting with Weinstein Monday at Mass General, Kristin marveled at how advanced the state-of-the-art clinic is, complete with countless support services for kids and families – programs she and her father helped build. The dad-daughter duo raised $330,000 for the pediatric cancer program.

“It’s completely changed who I am,” Santanello said of being part of the marathon family. “It’s part of me, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I became a nurse as well.”

Weinstein often tells people he will stop running the day every child’s cancer is cured. The current cure rate, he said, is 85 to 90 percent.

Seeing Kristin healthy and successful is why he chose his career – and why he runs.

“To be able to run beside someone who you treated for cancer and see them healthy, active and now supporting cancer research and raising money is something really wonderful,” Weinstein said. “It’s just so heartwarming. It brings tears to my eyes when I think about someone like Kristin and all the kids that have been associated with our program.”

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