WASHINGTON - Minutes after Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's bill to fund childhood cancer research passed the Senate, 7-year-old cancer survivor Wyatt Rech received a personal thank-you call from him.
Wyatt, of Montgomery, Minn., was an inspiration for Coleman's legislation, which provides $30 million per year for five years to help fund pediatric cancer research. President Bush is expected to sign the bill after it unanimously passed the Senate and the House.
"This is a big day, and certainly for Wyatt because he helped motivate me to become passionate and work 'til we passed this," Coleman said. "He has made a difference in the lives of other kids, and that is what this is about."
But the conversation between the two, who became fishing buddies after meeting in June 2005, quickly shifted to their ongoing rivalry out on the lake. "Wyatt says if the senator doesn't catch any fish next time, he loses," his mother, Kris said. "Last year, Wyatt gave him credit for pulling in some weeds."
Wyatt's family has been fighting for funding and increased awareness of childhood cancer, the No. 1 killer of children in the United States, since February 2004 when he was found to have a rare tumor on his kidney called a Wilms tumor. Wyatt was born with a birth defect that made him predisposed to certain cancers.
Today Wyatt has no evidence of disease, but he still undergoes scans and blood work every three months. He will also likely need physical therapy to counteract some side effects of the drug treatment.
Wyatt's mother said the bill will benefit many more children battling cancer and help memorialize many of their close friends who lost the fight against the disease.
"It's more than just about Wyatt," she said. "It's a way to honor [other children] and change the way these kids are treated."
The Conquer Childhood Cancer Act of 2007 was introduced in March of last year and co-sponsored by 64 members, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. "Minnesota's leadership in developing groundbreaking treatments and medical technologies comes from our strong investment in medical research," Klobuchar said. "We must do everything we can to develop the most advanced treatments to finally conquer childhood cancer."
Critics of the bill previously said they would not support a bill that directs funding to a specific disease.
As part of the $30 million each year, $1 million will fund a national database of childhood cancer, the creation of which has been a decade-long project for University of Minnesota pediatrics professor Dr. Julie Ross.
The database will help consolidate and track information about childhood cancer cases into a more readily accessible system for researchers, Ross said.
For Wyatt's family, the Senate's vote was a major milestone. "It's kind of like watching your child graduate; we invested so much emotionally and financially," she said. "It's pretty heartwarming to see it pass."
Emily Kaiser • 202-408-2723