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UM establishes Chad Carr Pediatric Brain Tumor Center

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
The stage at Saturday's ChadTough Foundation gala in Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor — Tammi and Jason Carr never want anyone to forget their adorable, funny son Chad, their youngest of three children.

Chad Carr was five years old when he died in 2015 from an incurable brain tumor, 14 months after being diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), an aggressive pediatric tumor.

The Carrs established the ChadTough Foundation in their son’s honor to raise money for DIPG research. It has received a major financial boost, the family announced Saturday night at the foundation's second annual Champions for Change Gala. A number of donors have committed $30 million to establish the Chad Carr Pediatric Brain Tumor Center at the University of Michigan to advance research and treatment for children with brain cancer.

Michigan Regent Ron Weiser and Eileen Weiser made lead gifts, along with donations from Wayne and Shelly Jones and the Jones Family Foundation, the Glick family and Alro Steel, The ChadTough Foundation, William and Sharon Stein, Frank and Barbara Westover, and David and Joan Evans, according to a release.

“One of the biggest fears for anyone who loses a child, you don’t want anyone to forget him, because you won’t,” Tammi Carr told The Detroit News. “There is a desire for a child who passes away, leaves early, you don’t want anyone to forget him.

“To know his life really did have a purpose, we believe this was his role unfortunately. I wish we had him a lot longer, but he’s definitely going to change the lives  and already has  of kids. That’s powerful. He did a lot in five years.”

Research discoveries because of Chad have already been made at UM, including a study using tissue from his tumor. Researchers found genetic mutation in the tumor that plays an early role.

“We are grateful for the generous gifts allowing us to honor Chad through transformational research that will help other children defeat this terrible disease. This is a monumental milestone in our mission to conquer pediatric brain cancer,” Valerie Opipari, M.D., a pediatric oncologist and chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, said in a statement.

“UM is positioned to lead the search for cures and committed to pushing the limits of what we know about pediatric brain tumors in order to advance science and revolutionize treatment.”

The joint announcement by Michigan Medicine and The ChadTough Foundation was made at Saturday's gala, which was attended by approximately 1,100 guests. The foundation has raised $5 million since its inception and was expected to raise $1 million from the gala.

This year, the gala, while focused on educating people about DIPG, took a lighter turn with what Tammi Carr called an “endearing” roast of her father-in-law, Lloyd Carr, who was Michigan’s head coach for 13 seasons. Jason Carr played quarterback at Michigan for his father.

Adam Schefter, a Michigan alum and ESPN NFL insider, was the MC of the roast that featured a number of former Michigan players, including 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson; Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft; Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh; LaMarr Woodley, who won a Super Bowl with the Steelers; former NFL receiver Braylon Edwards; former Michigan kicker Jeff Del Verne, whose son, Colt, has been diagnosed with DIPG; and former UM player and assistant Bob Thornbladh.

“There always going to be that component  DIPG is heavy. There are kids dying every day,” Tammi Carr said. “It was heavy last year. But Chad was a really funny kid and this was a perfect way to bring his humor into the evening and make it lighter and add this component. It’s hard to have people sit there all that time and cry.

“Chad really was so funny. He was a hysterical little boy. He had a very strong sense of humor, and he ribbed us all the time Michigan State and Ohio State. He was different. He was a different kid.”

Tammi Carr said Lloyd was nervous about the roast, but said he was willing to get through this one time for his grandson.

“Bo (Schembechler) told him, ‘Never let them roast you,’” Tammi said. “Who better to do this the first time than his grandfather? The only person he’d do it for is Chad. For Chad he has made an exception.”

And because of Chad’s legacy and the Chad Carr Pediatric Brain Tumor Center at Michigan, the family hopes to help other families avoid the tragedy they have endured.

“They see a light that they didn’t see before,” Tammi Carr said of parents facing DIPG today because of ChadTough-funded research. “(Doctors) are giving them hope. They believe there will be a cure in their lifetime. It’s not going to be tomorrow. It’s a marathon.”