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Brain Cancer Patient Raises $38,000 for “Angels Among Us” Race in Durham

Brain Cancer Patient Raises $38,000 for “Angels Among Us” Race in Durham
Brain Cancer Patient Raises $38,000 for “Angels Among Us” Race in Durham


Duke Health News Duke Health News

Running the Boston Marathon is a crowning achievement for many road racers, but Tom O’Donnell of Apex felt especially elated earlier this month when he lined up among the other 22,000 athletes for the prestigious event.

Three years earlier, O’Donnell was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and after undergoing surgery and treatment at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Medical Center, he made a vow to savor life, to push his body, to steel his mind.

So he ran. And ran and ran.

“I thought, ‘What if I can’t run ever again?’” O’Donnell said. “Running became a privilege. I felt really alive. I liked the way it made me feel -- I loved it.”

Just six weeks after his first surgery, O’Donnell entered a 5K race, and he has been running ever since, culminating in his qualification to run in Boston this year.

Fresh off that heady experience, O’Donnell said he is looking forward to entering this Saturday’s Angels Among Us road race in Durham, which benefits brain tumor research at Duke’s Tisch Center.

In previous years, he would challenge friends and loved ones to donate money to his Angels team, collecting an impressive $2,000 to $3,000. But this year, pinning his fund-raising to his Boston Marathon run, his total soared: $38,000.

“I never dreamed it would be that much,” he said.

The contribution will help organizers achieve their $1.8 million fundraising goal for the 19th annual “Angels Among Us” event, which also includes a family walk through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. All proceeds benefit the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.

“People come from all over the country to participate in this race,” said event organizer Ellen Stainback. “We have families from as far away as Oklahoma, Iowa, Florida. But all the proceeds from the race go directly to research needs at the brain tumor center at Duke.”

Brain tumors are diagnosed in about 22,000 people a year in the United States -- and about 13 percent of cases are in children, according to the National Cancer Institute. The prognosis varies widely depending on the type of tumor, with some being completely curable and others having a median survival of less than 12 months.

For O’Donnell, the prognosis looks good. With little rest after the grueling race in Boston -- temperatures neared 90 degrees this year and took a toll on many of the runners -- he is looking forward to his next challenge. And tomorrow’s run.

"There are many reasons why people run,” O’Donnell said. “I run to give others hope; I run for those who are unable to; I run because I can. I cannot think of a better reason."

About “Angels Among Us”

  • The annual road race has raised nearly $12 million for brain tumor research at Duke since its inception.
  • When it started in 1994, the event collected $27,000. Last year’s run pulled in more than $1.8 million.
  • Nearly 5,000 people participated last year.
  • Participants arrive from across the country and include current patients, survivors and the families and friends of people diagnosed with brain tumors.
  • This year’s run will be held Saturday, April 28 at 8 a.m. on the Duke campus, and is followed by awards, the family walk and a survivor’s walk. Go to for additional details.

For more information about this year’s event, call Ellen Stainback at 919-684-4784

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