Children’s Hospital Los Angeles receives $2 million to spur research on brain, spinal cord tumors

A life-changing event for a Los Angeles family has resulted in their funding an endowment to support The Kort Family Foundation Brain and Spinal Cord Tumor Research Program in the Division of Neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. The $2 million gift from Jill and Lee Kort will enable CHLA neurosurgeons to continue to provide optimal outcomes for children with brain and spinal cord tumors – by addressing the underlying cause and genetic profile of each tumor, and through accurate, non-invasive diagnosis and more effective personalized treatments.

The major objectives of The Kort Family Foundation Brain and Spinal Cord Tumor Research Program include comprehensive studies on central nervous system tumors to better understand how these tumors develop and the best way to treat them. For example, creation of a genetic tumor bank will allow CHLA researchers to develop and sustain a database of tissue samples, DNA data, and MRI scans and other state-of-the-art technologies.

“Ultimately, such modern molecular-based research will allow CHLA to bring genomic discoveries into the clinical setting, where it impacts our patients,” says Division Chief Mark Krieger, MD, Billy and Audrey L. Wilder Endowed Chair in Neurosurgery.

In 2014, the Korts’ then 16-year-old daughter, Erika—who has been a dancer all her life—felt a growing numbness, pain and tingling in her legs. At first, she and her mom thought Erika had pulled a muscle or pinched a nerve. But when the numbness spread, her pediatrician referred her to the experts at CHLA where Krieger diagnosed from an MRI scan what he hoped would turn out to be a benign tumor.

“We saw this abnormal lesion in her spinal cord. It looked like there was some bleeding around it, so it was hard to tell what it was going to be: whether a tumor or vascular lesion, malignant or benign,” says Krieger. Erika’s tumor turned out to be a cavernous angioma, which Krieger describes as “this weird tangle of blood vessels that bleed little by little. Because the spinal cord is so small in diameter, when you have this angioma that is bleeding, it gradually eats away at the tracks that carry strength and sensation to different parts of the body. If we had left it alone, even if benign, it would most likely have just kept bleeding, eventually causing Erika to lose all function below that location on her spine.”

Erika admits that at first “I was pretty terrified of going into the hospital.” But after a successful surgery in which Krieger and his team were able to remove the entire lesion, she now recalls her stay at CHLA as an amazing time and a good memory. Her neurosurgeon now adds “there’s no reason she can’t go back to dancing.”

“What happened to us was a wakeup call, a realization that health issues have no boundaries,” said Jill Kort. “We had a wonderful outcome, and we witnessed such professionalism and such care at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles—making an experience that was so scary a little easier to handle from start to finish.”

As she and husband Lee got to know Dr. Krieger well, they decided that they wanted to give back and help provide this level of expertise to others who couldn’t afford it.

“Our concept for giving to CHLA is twofold: we want to feel that our gift will have an impact, and we want to be involved with the institution; to get a sense of what is happening and how our dollars are affecting the future,” Lee Kort explained, adding that it was an opportunity to set an example for their two daughters, Erika and Alexa, and “pay it forward.”

Krieger agrees. “For us, the most exciting thing is partnership. The Korts went through this crisis as a family, so they understand the challenges—both the things we go through as caregivers, and what our patients go though. I think it really shows the strength of this family to be able to turn what was such a difficult time for them into something positive that will benefit the community of Los Angeles and children everywhere.”

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles