Fun with a Purpose – Kateynn’s Ride Is Named a Difference Maker for 201s

Katelynn’s Ride, the annual bicycle ride created to honor the memory of Katelynn Battista, who lost a decade-long battle with leukemia at age 11, and raise money for cancer programs at Baystate Children’s Hospital and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, has been named a Difference Maker for 2015 by HCN’s sister publication, BusinessWest.
This year’s class of Difference Makers, which also includes Spirit of Springfield President Judy Matt, MassMutual, Valley Venture Mentors, and the new ownership group for the Student Prince and the Fort in Springfield, will be honored at the annual gala on March 19 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House.
Launched in 2001, Katelynn’s Ride has raised more than $1.7 million to date, with funds directed to Baystate, Dana Farber, and individual families in the form of $1,000 grants to help them cope with the many expenses associated with a cancer fight.
Locally, the K-Ride, as it’s called, supports efforts to fund a relatively new position at Baystate, a nurse practitioner, or NP, who acts as a liaison between the families of children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer and the specialists providing them care.
“Katelynn’s riders have supported one of Baystate’s most patient-focused initiatives — the work of a designated care coordinator who helps patients and families navigate the complexities of the healthcare system amid serious illness,” said Dr. Satkiran Grewal, chief of pediatric oncology at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “It’s a very important role, and we’re grateful for their assistance.”
The K-Ride was inspired by Katelynn, who, according to her mother, Michele Battista, was committed to not letting her cancer get in the way of whatever she wanted to do, and, for the most part, she succeeded with that mission.
“She tried to maintain her normal self and activities, just like any other child,” she told BusinessWest, “because she just wanted to be a kid and do the things that her friends did. Cancer did not hold her back; she was still involved in all her sports — she danced, she played soccer, she played basketball, she played piano, all while she was sick. She didn’t miss out on anything that she wanted to do.”
And while doing all that Katelynn decided she would also make the time to appear on a radiothon staged by radio station WHYN to raise money for Dana Farber, where she received some of her care.
It is here where the story of K-Ride begins, because it was roughly at that point where Katelynn began inspiring people to do things in her name in the ongoing fight against cancer.
Two of the hosts for that radiothon were Dan Williams and his wife and long-time radio and TV partner Kim Zachery. Williams’ best friend, Steve Stark, worked for the Postal Service, as did Domenic Battista. “It turns out we all knew other, and so we all got very involved in Katelynn’s story,” said Zachery, adding that Katelynn became a regular on radiothons.
For Williams and Stark, that involvement eventually included a cross-country bike ride they undertook in 1996 — soon after Katelynn, who had been in remission, was again diagnosed with cancer — to raise money for Dana Farber and get the infusion room there named in her honor.
“Katelynn became our inspiration,” said Williams, adding that two years after that cross-country trek, he and Stark took part in something called the Race Across America, a 2,740-mile, non-stop relay that they and other team members completed in just under seven days. “In 1996, when we did the cross-country bike ride, we did it in honor of Katelynn, raising something like $50,000, and then in 1998, we did it in her memory — she died the year before.”
And it wasn’t long after she passed away before Williams, Stark, and Zachery started conceiving an event that would let Katelynn continue to be an inspiration — for hundreds of people, many of whom had never met her.
“When she passed away, we knew we had to keep her name and her legacy going,” said Zachery, “because she was such a wonderful little girl and had such a fierce spirit of determination.”
The first K-Ride was staged in 2001 with roughly 60 riders. That number rose steadily to about 300, said Stark, and it has stayed around that level, dipping during the Great Recession, when most all fund-raising initiatives suffered, but rising again when it ended.
Over the years, the event has expanded to include several different rides, and also a walk, with participants coming mostly from this region but some from well outside it.
“We have some riders who have been with us since day one, and it’s great to see them come back each year,” said Katelynn’s father, Domenic. “We’re here 15 years later, and I never thought it would get this big or go this long, but it has, and that’s a tribute to a dedicated crew we call the friends of Katelynn. It’s a long day, but a nice day, a family day of remembrance for Katelynn while we’re helping to fund this position at Baystate.”
Such an individual was not available to families when Kateylnn was battling cancer, he said, adding that when Grewal and others at Baystate indicated a desire to direct some of K-Ride’s donations in that direction, organizers were in full support.
Hired in 2012, the nurse practitioner has been an effective addition to the staff at Baystate, working with patients and their families in both inpatient (at Baystate Children’s Hospital) and outpatient (the Sadowsky Center for Children) clinical settings.
The NP assists families with everything from managing medications properly, to scheduling tests, to answering the myriad questions that are inevitably raised during a cancer battle, said Grewal, adding that while the survival rates for childhood cancer are quite good, that doesn’t mean the process of treatment is in any way easy or without stress.
And starting just after the news is broken to parents, the nurse practitioner serves as an intermediary of sorts and a needed source of information and support during an often years-long ordeal that can and usually will test a family’s patience — and mettle.
“There is a shock that comes to the family, and after the initial news on the first meeting, most of the things just fly over their heads,” Grewal explained. “We as physicians meet with the family on multiple occasions, but a nurse practitioner fills that role in between. And I wouldn’t say it’s hand-holding, although there is some of that. There’s also many questions to be answered.
“I’ve been guilty, like everyone else, of using technical terminology,” he went on. “Parents won’t interrupt me while I’m doing that, but they’ll sit down with the nurse practitioner later, go over everything again, and they’ll say ‘I didn’t understand what he said when he was saying this.’”
For more information about the Difference Makers program or to order tickets for the March 19 event, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or visit www.businesswest.com. v

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