OHSU Extra, Winter 2014
Jake was born with a rare genetic disorder and wasn’t expected to live. Today, the gutsy 8-year-old is unstoppable on the baseball field and dance floor.
Erin was 12 when doctors told her parents she needed heart surgery or she wouldn’t see her 30th birthday. At 26, she is a world-class competitive athlete and a second-year medical student.
Taylor was 4½ years old when he had surgery to correct a heart defect. Now in his early twenties, he is one of Nike’s talented product designers.
Triumph over life-threatening medical conditions connects these current and former OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital patients. Each of them is also part of an extraordinary 10-year collaboration that is making a world of difference for kids facing serious health challenges.
A brainstorm leads to big things
Doernbecher Freestyle is a one-of-a-kind partnership between Nike and Doernbecher in which young patients work with Nike creative staff to design limited-edition shoes that are sold nationwide. Proceeds support the hospital that changed – and in many cases saved – these patients’ lives.
It all began in 2004 with a brainstorm between a Nike executive and his teenage son. Michael Doherty, Nike’s Creative Director of Global Brand Presentations and a longtime Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation board member, was intrigued by his son’s idea that Nike create custom sneakers honoring the hospital’s young patients. A Nike product designer suggested that the kids themselves design the shoes, and Freestyle was born.
Paying it forward and giving back
Jake Dering is one of the seven Doernbecher patients nominated by their doctors to participate in Freestyle 2013. Jake was born with an extremely rare illness that affects bone and facial structure. His family feared he would never be able to walk. But Jake’s deep reserve of "can-do" has seen him through multiple surgeries that enable him to shoot hoops, run bases and even complete a 5K. Jake’s Freestyle sock liners encourage kids to "Be brave" and "Power through it."
While patients like Jake are paying it forward, others have their sights set on paying back the care they received years ago.
Erin Gray is a 2005 Freestyle alumna. "I was so excited when I got to design a running shoe," she recalled. When she was 12, a heart defect threatened her long-term health and her ability to do what she most loved: competitive distance running. Doernbecher surgeons fixed the problem, and Erin went on to win medals throughout high school and college. This year she set a personal best record in the 20K racewalk at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow. Erin said she credits her positive experience as a Doernbecher patient with her interest in becoming a physician.
Unique corporate partnership helps young patients go the distance
"This program’s impact is enormous. Most importantly, these funds help Doernbecher treat and cure more kids. The Freestyle Program has also raised Doernbecher’s national profile," said H. Stacy Nicholson, M.D., M.P.H., Doernbecher’s physician-in-chief. "The partnership between Doernbecher and Nike is a deep relationship that has enriched the culture of both organizations."
Michael Doherty agreed. "Whether they’re designing shoes for LeBron James, Serena Williams or Tiger Woods, everyone at Nike who has been involved with Freestyle says that this is the most gratifying project they’ve ever worked on."
Taylor Sieg, a Nike product designer, jumped at the chance to be part of this year’s program. He knows first-hand what it’s like to be a little kid in a big hospital. When Taylor was 4½ years old, OHSU doctors repaired his defective heart. He has vivid memories of his time in the hospital. "It’s traumatic; it makes you a fighter. I wanted to be a part of Freestyle to reward these kids. Every one of them said it was all about helping the people that come after them."
Since the program’s launch, Freestyle has raised nearly $8 million. The funds help Doernbecher expand pioneering research, support clinical care, purchase state-of-the-art equipment and recruit new experts. The funds also help cover the cost of care for families who need financial support.
What started as a small collection has grown into a hot commodity, with sneakerheads nationwide tuning in for the latest release – and becoming Doernbecher fans in the process.