Donor Highlights: The Matthew McGrorty Memorial Fund

September 12, 2023

On July 31, friends, family, and colleagues gathered for a day of golf, dinner, and camaraderie, to fundraise for the Matthew McGrorty Memorial Fund, which supports research in the Hope and Heroes Division of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, and Stem Cell Transplantation at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Guests gathered as part of the Matthew McGrorty Memorial Golf Outing, hosted annually by John and Carol McGrorty, in memory of their son, Matthew, who passed away at the age of four in 2008.

Matthew’s Story

John and Carol have been extraordinarily candid in sharing their family’s story. Matthew was a twin – he and his sister, Ashlynn, arrived as the younger siblings to their brother, Sean. The family recalls that when the twins were two years old, Ashlynn had an ear infection, and the McGrortys’ babysitter noticed that Matthew was also not feeling well.

A trip to the local ER confirmed that the situation was much more serious, and sonogram testing revealed that Matthew had cancerous growths in his liver, which had already spread to his lungs. The local hospital felt that the surgery was too risky and not something they could handle – so they referred Matthew to specialists at Columbia, who were able to remove much of the cancerous tissue.

“Everyone at Columbia treated us like family,” John remembered. He noted the same for other families, recalling a special toy delivery made to children on Matthew’s ward. John recalls at the time saying to his wife, “No matter how this ends, we’re going to do something like this.”

After surgery and a week of chemotherapy, Matthew was back home with his family, yet they knew their time with Matthew was precious. They packed in as many memories and experiences as they could. They played T ball on the field at Yankee Stadium; they flew up in a plane to see the Goodyear blimp. The McGrortys remember Matthew as a happy, easygoing baby. “He loved planes, trains and baseball. He loved riding his tricycle up and down the street.”

“You have to make memories every day,” John recalls thinking. “You have no idea what tomorrow is going to bring.” 

A Call to Action

Matthew lived for another fifteen months, and after his death, the McGrortys made it a priority to honor his memory, by helping other children and families facing similar challenges. In a first tribute to Matthew, Carol and John provided DVDs and players to the children receiving treatment similar to Matthew’s. The McGrortys’ gifts were usually reflective of many of Matthew’s favorites, including Blue’s Clues, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Wow Wow Wubbzy. (Any parent can attest that these titles endure.)

The McGrortys were delighted - but not surprised - that those close to them wanted to join them in celebrating Matthew’s life and helping other families in similar circumstances. Carol, then a kindergarten teacher, and John, then a New York City police officer, were touched by the outpouring of support.

With their support and encouragement, the McGrortys established an annual golf outing focused on raising funds for oncology research. John talked about the thinking behind it: “Maybe somewhere there’s a doctor who doesn’t have enough money to fund their research. If we can do something to keep him or her or their teams working, that’s what we’re going to do. That’s where we think we can help the most.”

Since the inaugural golf outing in 2008, the McGrorty family has helped to raise funds each year to advance the study of solid tumors, including the study of heptablastomas, the most common type of liver cancer, for which Matthew was treated at Columbia.

“I was extremely touched by the way the McGrortys channeled their grief by sharing their story and giving back in such a selfless way. What a beautiful tribute to Matthew’s memory that they have brought together such a large community to help focus on this important work of our division,” said Darrell Yamashiro, MD, Chief of the Division and a leading pediatric oncology researcher, whose own work focuses on caring for children with solid tumors and other particularly challenging cancers.  

Childhood solid tumors are often difficult to study and treat because they are rare and originate in the complex biological context of developing organs. Treatment of these aggressive types of cancers requires a multidisciplinary approach so that patients have the best outcomes. With annual support from the McGrorty family, Dr. Yamashiro continues to advance his research of hepatoblastomas, and improving their treatment.

“The latest advances in tumor genetics and the design of innovative therapies make this a very exciting time for cancer research,” notes Dr. Yamashiro. “My team and I have done extensive research on the genetics of hepatoblastoma. We are entering a new phase where we are offering a personalized and precision medicine approach to children with this disease.”

Matthew’s Legacy: At Columbia and Beyond

Dr. Yamashiro was among the attendees at this year’s sold-out event, which was held at the Woodside Club in Long Island. The event continues to be led by the McGrortys’ other children, Sean and Ashlynn. John McGrorty, now retired from the NYPD, continues to see the fund honoring his younger son as his calling: “It’s a privilege to honor Matthew in this way and the incredible doctors doing this work,” John says. “We are grateful to be part of the Columbia family and for the chance to help other families.”

To learn more about the Division and the research of Dr. Yamashiro and his colleagues, please click here.