In 1999, being a devoted science student with a fascination for the workings of the brain, I eagerly read every word of Gifts of Time, the autobiography by Dr. Fred Epstein, arguably the greatest pediatric neurosurgeon in the world. Inspired by his compassion and innovations in the field, I was motivated to write requesting an interview, which was granted and amounted to a personal epiphany. After the interview and a tour of the pediatric ICU at Beth Israel North Hospital that exposed me for the first time to children from underserved populaces who were suffering incurable diseases, I decided that I would find a way to help and somehow lessen the financial burden of these and other young victims of neurological illness. It was then that I created CHC which has burgeoned beyond my wildest dreams into a musical fundraising arm for the national medical community, and is presently developing its international infrastructure.
I began gathering other accomplished young musicians from Juilliard and producing monthly performances at hospitals in the tri-state area. From 1999-2003, I played my violin room to room in the neurosurgical ICUs at Beth Israel Medical Center (among dozens of other hospitals), and performed four benefit concerts at Carnegie Hall (raising $100,000) which funded a surgery endowment for indigent children who needed Dr. Epstein’s life saving brain stem surgery, and musical therapy services for pediatric patients. I beheld the power music has to heal and stimulate the brain when I performed at Beth Israel’s 10th floor playroom, and witnessed the movement of a previously unresponsive child who had recently undergone neurosurgery. Every monitor she was hooked up to commenced beeping as she began reacting to the music. It was a moment I will never forget.
Then there was Jason, whose life and struggles inspired me to begin the fundraising performances for which CHC is now known. Jason was thirteen and suffered from a recalcitrant spinal tumor—in and out of surgery three times. He always asked for extra pillows when I came to his room to play, so he could be propped up to watch my fingers. He was a pianist who took great comfort in Chopin, but also loved the intricate harmonies of Bach’s violin partitas. He felt sick inside about not being able to practice for weeks on end while recovering from surgery and treatments. There was no piano on the 10th floor. By the spring of 1999 I had figured out a way to make his world a little brighter: CHC’s first fundraiser. I sent a letter to Jayson Stoller, the principal of Roslyn High School, requesting the use of the auditorium for a benefit concert to purchase a piano for Beth Israel Medical Center’s pediatric neurosurgery division. He did not let me down. In April, 1999, renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Fred Epstein of Beth Israel, my friend and mentor, walked into Roslyn High School with fifty members of his staff and joined the sold out house to buy Jason and all of the children in the ward a piano for the 10th floor playroom. The event spoke volumes to me. If a child believes, anything is possible. We raised that money, and thousands more to be used for music therapy in the ward. Dr. Epstein himself funded the next concert at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. We began setting money aside for a neurosurgery scholarship fund so disadvantaged children from around the globe could benefit from Dr. Epstein’s visionary surgical techniques.
Jason lost his battle with brain cancer one year later. But this is not a sad story; it’s one of the happiest ones I know, because when I was seven, he and other children compelled me to think bigger, harder and more compassionately until the seeds of Children Helping Children burgeoned into more than a philanthropic organization—it became a movement in medicine and music—first nationally, and now internationally. I have met with Senators Hillary Clinton and Bob Dole, and former Governor Pataki to discuss the future of healthcare fundraising in our country. I have formed chapters of CHC all over the country so that now, in an organized effort, hundreds of young musicians are donating their talents for the future of medicine, participating in my Concerts for a Cure. They are changing the world, and patrons are flocking to the concert halls in droves to support their talents and the future of healthcare fundraising.
There is no other organization with CHC's mission: to spread the concept that medicine and music should be inextricable partners. Lives have been saved with the purchase of every ticket at a Concert for a Cure produced by Children Helping Children. In 2001, surgical scholarships were set up at Beth Israel Medical Center’s Institute for Neurology and Neurosurgery through money my organization raised for indigent children with neurological disease who couldn’t otherwise afford the surgery. In 2005 and 2007, funds from CHC’s Carnegie Hall benefit concerts supported cutting edge research (Promise 2010 Research Initiative) and home care for Multiple Sclerosis patients with advanced forms of the disease who did not have the monetary resources. The National MS Society reports that approximately 400,000 people stricken with MS have been positively affected by CHC’s Concerts for a Cure (documented on CHC’s website: www.childrenhelpingchildren.net). In 2007, at Mott Children’s Hospital’s Ronald McDonald House in Anne Arbor, CHC’s benefit concert raised funds for a musical therapy program for pain management for children recovering from critical surgery. In 2007, funds were raised for children in need of cochlear implants at the benefit concert I performed for the Children’s Hearing Institute at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Through CHC, young entrepreneurial philanthropists of our generation along with the great musicians of our time can come together and create a “youthquake”: changes in the field of healthcare that we only dream about. The success of Children Helping Children has shown me that kids can move small mountains with big hearts. There is no age requirement for doing something extraordinary.