Most people have a bucket list of once-in-a-lifetime experiences that, given the chance, would leave them with memories of a robust life. Dr. Christine Matoian turned one of her long-awaited aspirations into a call for action against Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) and all pediatric brain cancers in the most appropriate spot she could imagine – The Big House.

Dr. Matoian, an OB/GYN from Farmington Hills, MI, turned 50 years old on July 1. The day before, she and more than one hundred of her friends celebrated the occasion with a party at Michigan Stadium.

Dr Matoian

Dr. Matoian requested that, in lieu of gifts, her guests donate to The ChadTough Foundation in honor of 6-year-old Emma Thompson, the daughter of one of her patients.

Just twelve months after Dr. Matoian delivered Emma into the world, she was diagnosed with ependymoma – a brain tumor with similar characteristics to DIPG. It attacked the frontal lobe of her brain but, through surgery and treatments, she beat the initial appearance and then beat a recurrence last year.

Emma is the middle daughter to parents Kelli and Shawn Thompson. Shawn was a U of M tight end under head coach Lloyd Carr, the grandfather of ChadTough namesake Chad Carr.

In August, Kelli Thompson dropped Emma off for her first day of first grade.

“Everything is that much more exciting now that Emma has gone through this stuff for the last five and a half years,” said Kelli Thompson, who with her husband participated in Arthur Murray’s Dancing With the Michigan Stars event last spring. “Christine’s been with us from the beginning of this, so I was blown away when she asked about having the party in Emma’s honor.“

Dr. Matoian, a lifelong Michigan fan who earned her undergraduate and medical degrees from the University, has been a season-ticket holder for Michigan football since her freshman year. She started thinking about having her 50th birthday party at The Big House even before she turned 49. The idea of connecting her love of the Wolverines, her passion as a doctor, and her personal connection to the Thompson family led to her desire to tell Emma’s story as part of the celebration.

“I remember the day that Kelli came into the office and told me that Emma had been diagnosed,” said Dr. Matoian. “To follow her and to know that I had been there and delivered her, and to know the medical side of it, I know more than just the heartbreaking side of the story. I know what an amazing thing it is that she’s been declared cancer-free. I see the medical side of it, the hope and the progress that ChadTough has honestly been a part of providing.”

The party raised several thousands of dollars for ChadTough while also continuing to raise awareness of the progress constantly being made in pediatric brain cancer research. More than $2.5 million was raised in 2018 through the efforts of ChadTough, its partners, and fundraising events like Dr. Matoian’s. Since ChadTough’s inception in 2016, the foundation has granted more than $4.2 million for research. 2018 impact report

I think it’s an extremely well-run foundation,” said Dr. Matoian. “I know that they’re trying very hard for most of their dollars to be for research and treatment and not operational costs. There are so many worthy charities out there but I don’t think there is anything more worthy than childhood cancer, and this is a particularly aggressive one, a really bad one.

“It’s the kids, too. I look at Emma and I don’t know if as a 50-year old if I would be as strong as she was at 2, and 3, and 4, and even now. I saw a video of her one day after her second surgery and she was just making the nurses laugh. Kids are so resilient.”

-By Kevin Goheen, a ChadTough Volunteer Writer