The True Heart of College Football

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Peach Bowl have a unique relationship that spans more than two decades through charitable giving and coach and college football player visits to our hospitals during bowl season. Last year, as the Peach Bowl was planning a new, significant contribution to Children’s, Anna Charles Hollis, the young daughter of Peach Bowl executive Benji Hollis, received a devastating cancer diagnosis.

Anna Charles’ fight quickly became the Peach Bowl’s fight and inspired a $20 million commitment to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center to establish the Peach Bowl LegACy Fund, named for Anna Charles, or “AC” to family and friends.

“The Peach Bowl has a long history of supporting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and this gift—the largest we have ever given—is the ultimate evolution of that relationship,” said Gary Stokan, CEO and president, Peach Bowl, Inc. “We are joining the fight against childhood cancer and we are all in.”

Anna Charles was just six years old when doctors at Children’s discovered she had an aggressive form of leukemia. What began as a visit to the Children’s Emergency Department following a routine tonsillectomy turned into an unimaginable journey with the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center for Anna Charles and her family—dad Benji, mom LeeAnna and sister Everlee. Sadly, she succumbed to the disease on Sept. 16, 2018, just five months after being diagnosed.

“Anna Charles was special,” Benji remembers. “Cancer didn’t define her. In spite of leukemia and her wheelchair, every day she laughed, she sang, she played and she made me proud to be her dad. Without the love and support our entire family received from the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, it wouldn’t have been possible. They are amazing.”

Each year in the United States, approximately 16,000 children are newly diagnosed with cancer. In 2018 alone, the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center diagnosed 488 children, making our program one of the largest in the country. Ranked among the top 10 pediatric cancer institutions by U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals,” the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center is also one of the most active sites for childhood cancer research. Knowledge gained through our endeavors is shared with our peers, advancing the collective pursuit of a cure.

Despite being the No. 1 disease killer of children, childhood cancer receives less than four percent of federal research funds. With its transformational $20 million commitment, the Peach Bowl LegACy Fund will open more pediatric clinical trials, advance development of high-priority drugs and devices, and accelerate testing. Stokan explains, “We are hyper-focused on fully funding innovative treatment strategies with the most potential and ultimately making them available to all children.”

The average clinical trial lasts two years, and exciting new treatments often run out of funding before realizing their full potential. The Peach Bowl LegACy Fund seeks to bridge that gap by advancing the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center’s most promising pediatric clinical trials and pilot projects and developing ongoing revenue streams to help ensure additional long-term funding for the program.

“We are so grateful to the Peach Bowl for its generous support of novel early phase pediatric oncology trials. These trials will offer the most promising new cancer drugs to children who have not responded to other standard therapies,” explains Douglas K. Graham, MD, PhD, Professor and Director, Daniel P. Amos Chair, Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

Thanks to the Peach Bowl, during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September and throughout the fall, college football fans can also support childhood cancer research by participating in the Peach Bowl Touchdown for Children’s (T4C). Established in 2017, T4C invites fans to pledge money to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center for every touchdown their favorite team scores during the college football season. The Peach Bowl will double the impact by matching every dollar donated.

This year, the company or organization that raises the most money, in addition to the college football team whose fans raise the most, will win the 2019 Anna Charles Hollis T4C Trophy and be recognized on the field at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center treats more children with cancer than anyone else in Georgia, so where you give matters.

Today, the cure rate for childhood cancer has reached an all-time high of 80 percent. But for the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and the Peach Bowl, 80 percent will never be good enough.

“As we team up to discover breakthroughs for children nationwide, we remember Anna Charles’ joyful spirit and honor her courageous battle,” Stokan said “Because in the words of Dr. Graham, we believe every child deserves a lifetime.”

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