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16-Year Partnership Changes Lives for Children and Their Families

Nationwide Children's Pediatric Innovation Fund enables cutting-edge research to help children

Left: Avery age 3. Right: Avery age 7.

You’d never know from watching her play, but little Avery Neely has already been declared a medical pioneer at just seven years old.

Born with a life-threatening congenital heart disease called hypoplastic left heart syndrome that causes the left ventricle to be underdeveloped, Neely was just two days old when her doctors transferred her to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, to undergo a clinical trial and the first of a series of complicated surgeries to redirect the blood flow through her heart. For her final surgery she enrolled in a clinical trial considered a major medical milestone for pediatric congenital heart patients, whereby doctors performed the Fontan procedure using a tissue-engineered vascular graft, making Neely one of the first children to have the repair done with vessels made from her own cells.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital has been able to help Neely and thousands of other children from across Ohio and the United States thanks to cutting-edge research and clinical testing in regenerative medicine, genomics, perinatal research, mental health and many other areas, annually providing more than 1.6 million patient visits.

“Each year, Nationwide Children’s provides more than 1.6 million patient visits to children from all 50 states and more than 50 countries worldwide,” said Tim Robinson, Chief Executive Officer, Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Tremendous support, generosity and partnership from Nationwide and the Nationwide Foundation has helped firmly position ourselves as a community treasure and in the top tier of pediatric institutions internationally.”

Established in 2014 to accelerate research and clinical discoveries, The Nationwide Foundation Pediatric Innovation Fund supports research efforts in genomics, heart health, neonatology, injury prevention and behavioral health. Combined with an initial $50 million contribution to the hospital in 2006, and the foundation’s $10 million annual donations to the fund since 2014, total giving to the hospital is $130 million.

With support from the Pediatric Innovation Fund, Nationwide Children’s Hospital has undergone significant expansions in its research and clinical programs since 2014. These include:

  • Establishment of the Steve and Cindy Rasmussen Institute for Genomic Medicine (IGM). Launched in 2016, the IGM is focused on expanding the availability of clinical genetic and genomic testing. This helps providers diagnose conditions earlier, better predict patient outcomes, and personalize treatment. The institute and its doctors and clinicians have ensured over 250 families received clinical genomics testing, providing diagnostic answers in several cases for children with complex and previously undiagnosed conditions.
  • The creation of 14 Endowed Research Chairs, including in 2021 the Nationwide Foundation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Transplantation.
  • Perinatal research with a focus on the prevention of preterm birth and complications of prematurity including infection, asthma, feeding disorders and neuro-developmental delays, among others. In 2021, funding will help enable the expansion of the program and team.
  • On Our Sleeves®, a mental health and awareness program devoted to improving pediatric mental health. To help break child mental health stigmas, its mission is focused on providing every family in America with access to free, evidenced-based educational resources.
  • Support for behavioral health research and the recruitment of nationally known behavioral health researchers focused on mood and anxiety disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The Pediatric Innovation Fund has also helped the hospital expand its community health and economic development initiative, Healthy Neighborhoods, Healthy Families (HNHF), from the south side of Columbus to the city’s Linden neighborhood. The HNHF initiative’s goals are aligned with the One Linden plan developed by city an Linden community leaders and is focused on combatting neighborhood disinvestment and reducing barriers to affordable housing, health care, employment and education. Part of this year’s Innovation Fund gift will help with the creation of single-family affordable housing units in Linden.

“Nationwide’s generosity has enabled us to help so many families, in so many ways,” said Robinson. “The Steve and Cindy Rasmussen Institute for Genomic Medicine helps shape the future of the discipline with their breakthroughs. The Center for Injury Research and Policy regularly appears before legislative bodies to help shape law changes to make children safer. The Center for Perinatal Research, collaborating with Neonatology, provides breakthroughs to more than 3,000 babies a year in one of the largest neonatal centers in the nation. These are just three examples of the many ways that Nationwide has helped improve countless lives.”

Nationwide CEO and Nationwide Foundation Chairman Kirt Walker says the two organizations are committed to an ongoing partnership with the hospital to change the future of medicine for people around the world in the years to come.

“When we work together, we can accomplish truly amazing things,” Walker said. “The Nationwide Foundation is proud to be able to make a difference by partnering with Nationwide Children’s Hospital on solutions for our community and on critically important research that makes an impact and improves the welfare of children and their families.”

For Avery Neely and her family, the research and pioneering clinical procedures available at Nationwide Children’s has been life changing.

“Participating in research means hope. Not just for our family, but for those that follow us,” said Neely’s mother, JoAnne Neely. “We know that research is essential, and we are fortunate to have such an amazing facility right here in Columbus that has a vision of always searching for a better way to help children.”