When Keegan McCarthy was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in January 2006, his family and friends rallied around him. Everyone in “Keegan’s Clan” wanted to support the St. Jude Catholic School fifth grader, his parents Kathy and Mike, and his 9-year-old sister Shannon. Little did Keegan’s Clan suspect that for more than 100 of them, including the family’s priest, helping would mean going bald.
Keegan’s uncle discovered St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a fundraising event in which volunteers shave their heads in solidarity with kids fighting cancer to spark donations. The foundation uses the money to fund childhood cancer research grants, including some to Riley Hospital.
The inaugural southside Indianapolis St. Baldrick’s event, with Keegan’s name on the T-shirts, raised $40,000. “I thought it was wonderful to see that everybody wanted to help out,” Kathy McCarthy recalls. Keegan attended and was able to shave what little hair was left on his head.
Further testing had shown his leukemia was Philadelphia chromosome positive, meaning Keegan had a specific chromosomal abnormality that reduced his odds for survival. His best chance was a bone marrow transplant from a family member; fortunately, Shannon was a perfect match. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation at Riley Hospital, Keegan received his transplant on May 10, 2006.
At Roncalli High School, Keegan keept busy as a member of the tennis team and manager of the varsity basketball team. He still made time, however, to raise money for cancer research. “I don’t want other kids to go through what I had to go through,” he says. In the fourth annual St. Baldrick’s event in 2009,
Keegan himself raised $10,000 and followed it up with another $8,600 in 2010. Through the years the names of other kids from the southside of Indianapolis have been added to the event T-shirt, including his good friend Tyler Genneken, who lost his battle against cancer in November 2009. “These are the kids we’re fighting for, who represent all the kids,” Kathy says.
Kathy and Keegan have organized blood and bone marrow drives at their church, and Keegan’s Clan has joined the Light the Night Walk to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Keegan has spoken about Riley Hospital on the radio and before a variety of groups. In 2007, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis gave him a Power of Children Award for making a difference.
“Keegan has gained the respect of people around the United States through his journaling on his CaringBridge.org page,” says his aunt, Kathleen Haberthy. “He will be a champion in his own right as he continues to spread knowledge to others in high school and beyond.”