Medford woman paddles for child’s health

By Sean Patrick Murphy

For Margo Pellegrino, paddle boarding along the Jersey shore meant more than just having fun.

She did it for Charlie.

Charlie is the 4 and-a-half-year old son of Pellegrino’s neighbor, Julie Haughey. He suffers from neuroblastoma and is being treated at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Pellegrino, who has lived in Medford Lakes for about 15 years, said she started using a paddle board about two years ago.

She started her journey in Cape May and paddled to Atlantic City.

Pellegrino’s goal was to get to Sandy Hook within 40 hours. She got as far as Ship Bottom and paddled for 19 hours.

Pellegrino said there was a strong physical challenge because of currents and tides.

While she appreciates the press her journey has received, Pellegrino is disappointed she hasn’t raised more money.

“It’s been really kind of awesome how much attention it’s gotten,” she said. Pellegrino said she has raised about $2,000 for CHOP and $220 for Surfrider Foundation Emerald Coast Chapter.

“It was because of CHOP’s research and their partnerships in research and what they’ve done so far that has really made a difference for Charlie,” she said, noting Charlie’s tumors are shrinking. “CHOP is doing absolutely wonderful things.”

Pellegrino said she believes the plight of the oceans (which is what Surfrider is concerned with) may be tied to an increase in childhood diseases.

“We need to keep looking into this,” she said. “Why are kids getting this? How can we treat it?

“We do have to look at our environment,” Pellegrino added.

Julie said Charlie was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma on Christmas Eve 2009, just three days before his third birthday. Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer of the sympathetic nervous system.

It is usually found in young children and is the most common cancer among infants. There are approximately 700 new diagnoses every year in the US. The cause is unknown.

Charlie received all of his treatment at CHOP. His treatment took place over a period of 14 months and included six rounds of chemotherapy, surgery, stem cell transplant, four weeks of radiation, and stem cell transplant.

He spent a great deal of time at CHOP, approximately 185 overnights in the hospital.

“Thanks to the amazing support of our family, friends, community and the people at CHOP, Charlie is doing incredibly well,” Julie said. “He has weathered this storm with courage and grace.

“On Feb 27, 2011 we heard the magical words, No Evidence of Disease,” she added. “These are the words that every parent of a child with cancer hopes to hear.”

In August Charlie will be having his quarterly scans. His oncologists continue to keep a close eye on him, but his visits are becoming less frequent.

“We are so grateful for each day that we see him growing alongside his two big sisters, getting bigger and stronger,” Julie said. “Every day is a gift.”

Julie has known Margo for close to four years. They met through mutual friends and a shared love of running.

“I knew who Margo was prior to meeting her because of her epic paddling adventures and her passion for making our world a cleaner, better place to live,” Julie said. “Her friendship has come to mean so much to me.

“In more ways than one, her journey parallels our experience in the world of childhood cancer,” she added. “In both cases, endurance, adaptability, courage, patience, strength, resolve, focus, hope, and faith were fundamental for survival.”

Margo said the trip couldn’t have been done without the help of “a ton of volunteers,” including Garden State Yacht Sales, Kialoa paddles, and Starboard.

The links to donate to CHOP and Surfrider Foundation’s Emerald Coast Chapter can be found at her website miami2maine.com.