Annual fundraising event raises $16K for local pediatric cancer patients

After being limited by the COVID-19 pandemic for the last two years, one of the most popular and successful fundraisers on East Carolina University’s Health Sciences Campus returned to full strength on Friday.

And in the process, the sixth annual Pirates Vs. Cancer event — during which dozens of people had their heads shaved or hair cut for charity — raised approximately $16,000 to support pediatric cancer patients at Vidant Medical Center.

This brings the total raised by this student-led fundraising campaign to more than $140,000 since it was started in 2017 by Brody School of Medicine alumnus Trevor Hunt when he was a first-year medical student.

Prior to the pandemic, the fundraiser grew in popularity each year. The goal of this year’s group of student organizers — who hailed from all four of the ECU Health Sciences Campus colleges and schools — was to start building the momentum again.

“Most of the people on the committee have never attended a full Pirates Vs. Cancer event before, so we weren’t really sure what to expect,” said Hayley Behm, a first-year medical student and one of the event’s organizers.

The students were able to surpass last year’s total raised of $13,000 — thanks to support from dozens of participants, donors and community sponsors — and they are already looking at ways to leverage that success next year.

“It really humbles us that so many people care about the pediatric cancer patients in Greenville. We’re super excited to help these children to get the resources they need to make their stay more comfortable during such a difficult time,” Behm said. “I think the success of Pirates Vs. Cancer every year shows that we have such great support in Greenville and that Greenville really does care about this community.”

Third-year medical student Kieran Ved held off on getting a haircut for several weeks, because he wanted his first experience with Pirates Vs. Cancer to be a proper one.

“Any little bit helps in showing support for cancer patients,” said Ved, a Raleigh native. “So, I think it’s very admirable that all of these people came out, participated in all of these activities and did their part to raise awareness and fight cancer. It’s just a great day.”

Dr. Sam Hudzik, a first-year pediatric resident at ECU/Vidant, decided to get several inches of her hair cut off during the event after recently finishing her hematology/oncology block at Vidant Medical Center.

“After recently having met and forming relationships with some of the kids on the hematology/oncology floor, this just means something different for me,” Hudzik said. “I hope that this event will help them feel really supported and know that there is a lot of support and love for them in the community.”

In addition to the haircuts, faculty from across the ECU Health Sciences Campus helped the students raise additional funding by agreeing to be hit in the face with pies. A crowd formed around the multiple rows of whipped cream-covered educators, as offers for donations were being shouted in from current students and fellow faculty members. Donations were also being phoned in from ECU alumni and some of the faculty members’ out-of-state relatives.

First-year medical student Catie Gray donated $100 for the opportunity to hit Dr. Cedric Bright, the interim vice dean and associate dean for admissions at the Brody School of Medicine, in the face with a pie.

An ECU student pays to pie a person in the face during Pirates Vs. Cancer.

In addition to the haircuts, faculty from across the ECU Health Sciences Campus helped the students raise additional funding by agreeing to be hit in the face with pies.

“I donated $100 to pie Dr. Bright, because I didn’t get into medical school the first time I applied. This was so empowering, it was worth every penny,” joked Gray, before praising Bright and the other faculty for being willing to support the students in such a manner. “This was incredible; they really are amazing people.”

Prior to the event, Bright and Brody Executive Dean Dr. Jason Higginson released a video on social media saying they would agree to take pies in the face if the students reached their initial fundraising goal of $25,000.

Even though the students fell a little short, both administrators followed through with their offer.

“It was crazy, I’m glad I closed my eyes just in time,” Bright said while still wiping whipped cream off his head. “But it was fun, and it was a way to hang out with the students, support this great cause and support our school. We’re all about trying to do something for other people — whether we’re educating the next generation of doctors or we’re trying to support people who are going through stressful times.”

While Bright received a pie in the face from a student, Higginson was not as lucky. His wife, Dr. Amanda Higginson, Brody’s interim associate dean for Student Affairs, gladly stepped in when none of their children wanted to pie their father.

“There was a lot of force behind that; she got a free shot at me!” Higginson joked. “But this is such a worthy cause, it was worth taking a pie in the face. This was a small price to pay to thank the students for doing this.”

Higginson said Pirates Vs. Cancer is an example of the “incredible” community connection in that exists between ECU’s students, faculty and community stakeholders.

“As a pediatrician, but more as a parent, anytime we can do something to improve the lives of kids and families who are probably going through one of the most traumatic events a family can go through — there’s nothing better than that,” Higginson added.

ECU is in the public phase of the Pursue Gold campaign to raise half a billion dollars. This ambitious effort will create new paths to success for Pirates on campus, across the country and around the world. Donor gifts during the campaign will keep us constantly leading and ready to advance what’s possible. Learn more at pursuegold.ecu.edu.