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One SLO dad’s mission to save his daughter’s life, and the world

By   /   Monday, July 9th, 2012  /   Comments Off on One SLO dad’s mission to save his daughter’s life, and the world

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First, a word about what this column is not. It is not about a CEO, a big deal or a vast looming budget deficit.

It is about a dad from San Luis Obispo who has embarked on a brave, if quixotic, quest to save his daughter’s life after she was diagnosed with cancer. Along the way, he’s met some of the top cancer doctors in the world, he’s found some wealthy backers and he’s launched a nonprofit.

His daughter is alive — she graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo two weeks ago and she will be married later this summer. And his nonprofit has made a significant gift to one of the nation’s leading medical centers.
I first encountered Frank Kalman several months ago when the first email from Kids’ Cancer Research Foundation arrived in my inbox.

It seemed to be a small foundation with a national focus. There was not much connection to the Tri-Counties and the economic impact was likely to be small. I passed on a story.
But Kalman is nothing if not persistent. He emailed again; I emailed back. Finally, I got an emotional voicemail from him — it struck a nerve.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned Kalman’s story. He is a Cal Poly SLO graduate himself. He was a senior manager in marketing for Honda U.S.A. in Los Angeles before he decided to quit the corporate rat race and move his family to the Central Coast. His wife is a financial executive in the San Luis Obispo area and she’s the primary breadwinner. They have three daughters.

Ten years ago, one of the Kalman girls, Calli, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that kills 45 percent of its victims before they reach adulthood. Even when successfully treated the first time, it often reappears and the odds of survival drop to 5 percent.

Neuroblastoma is the most common form of cancer in infants, but according to Kalman, it doesn’t attract the kind of headlines or support that breast cancer or prostate cancer attracts. The result is a dearth of funding, lack of information for parents and financial hardship.

Kalman persisted, however, tracking down experts at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles and the Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital. Baylor was the recipient of the Kids’ Cancer Research Foundation’s first grant, a $70,000 gift earlier this year.

Among his supporters and funders is Christopher Kennedy Lawford, the son of actor Peter Lawford and a nephew of John F. Kennedy. In San Luis Obispo, Scott Wall at the law firm Andre Morris Buttery, Daniel O’Hare at the CPA firm Glenn Burdette and Sue Anderson, an executive at Dignity Health, have joined his board.

When you talk to Kalman, it’s obvious that Callie’s hardships have taken their toll. The family has been through tough times and Kalman admits to PTSD-like symptoms due to the financial and emotional stress.

Like many parents of children with life-threatening diseases, Kalman is relieved that the U.S. Supreme Court last week upheld the 2010 health care reform act. “We are already financially exhausted. If this act was overturned there was a good chance we would have been personally financially destroyed,” he said via email.

Calli has survived several major surgeries. She has her Cal Poly degree, following in her dad’s footsteps. Wedding planning is well underway.

One of the remarkable things about the Central Coast is the quality of our people and their ability to focus relentlessly on the task at hand. In the case of Frank Kalman, the task at hand is connecting kids and their families to the vast resources our country has assembled to fight cancer in adults.

This is an enormous goal. And trying to accomplish it while working hard to keep his daughter alive makes it all the more impressive.

But Kalman has the ability to focus and he’s got a generous heart. So far, so good.

• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]

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