Aaron’s dessert’ fund raiser helps boy fight cancer

Breanne Gilpatrick

‘Aaron’s dessert’ fund raiser helps boy fight cancer

3 Clean Plate Club restaurants help raise funds for treatments

By Breanne Gilpatrick

The Daily Northwestern

As 8-year-old Aaron Hultman struggles with a rare nerve disorder, three Evanston restaurants are offering their support — in the form of vanilla ice cream.

The Clean Plate Club Restaurant Group’s three Evanston locations — Merle’s Barbecue, 1727 Benson Ave.; Pete Miller’s Steakhouse, 1557 Sherman Ave.; and the Davis Street Fishmarket, 501 Davis St. — have raised about $3,000 since May 6 from the sales of “Aaron’s dessert,” vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

The fund raiser, which aims to defray the costs of Aaron’s medical care, will continue for another two weeks, the Clean Plate Club decided Thursday.

“One person gave a $100 bill and said, ‘Get me 25 desserts, but I don’t want any of them,'” said Scott Anderson, director of marketing for the Clean Plate Club. “It’s nice how people who have never even met Aaron or his family feel compassionate.”

Aaron was diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) — an incurable disorder that destroys the nervous system — in December 2003, said his uncle, John Greene. Doctors found the disease after Thanksgiving, when Aaron had a seizure in school.

Anderson said he has known Aaron Hultman’s father through Gary Hultman’s work selling advertising for the Pioneer Press. Anderson said he found out about Aaron’s diagnosis in January and decided to host a fund raiser.

“I have a kid of my own, and to think of my child sick, it’s just not a very nice thought,” Anderson said. “I just felt like doing something.”

Anderson said although most of the restaurants don’t even serve ice cream, he had heard from Gary Hultman that vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce was Aaron’s favorite dessert so the group decided to add it to the menu as “Aaron’s dessert.”

“We thought it would be an easy thing for us to contribute,” Anderson said.

Kim Rowe, general manager at Davis Street Fishmarket, said customers have been very enthusiastic about the fund raiser.

“Some people don’t even want the ice cream,” Rowe said. “They just order it and leave a donation. It’s a really good response.”

Rowe said the restaurant has done several smaller fund raisers in the past — such as donating the proceeds from all T-shirts, hats and aprons sold in the store to City of Hope, an organization specializing in cancer research — but she said this fund raiser has received a more noticeable response.

“Anything to do with children, people’s hearts tend to be more open than if it were just a general disease,” Rowe said. “It helps if you have a face you can put with the illness.”

The Clean Plate Club also has been sending out updates on Aaron’s condition to workers at the three restaurants, Rowe said.

Aaron returned Wednesday from Minneapolis, where he received a transplant of cord blood cells in February to slow the progression of the disease.

Greene explained stem cell and bone marrow transplants — the two main treatments for ALD — can be extremely risky because they require the patient first to undergo chemotherapy to suppress the immune system to prevent rejection of the new cells. This leaves the patient susceptible to serious secondary illnesses.

According to ALD Foundation, ALD is a terminal nerve disorder that strips away the myelin sheath, which insulates the nerve cells in the brain. This destroys the nervous system, leading to problems with vision, hearing and coordination.

The more serious pediatric form of the disease, which is found only in boys, usually sets in between the ages of four and 10.

Greene said since Aaron’s diagnosis, he had tried to research ALD as much as possible so he could understand what was happening to his nephew.

“If you think of the nerve as a wire that goes through your house,” Greene explained, “the nerve is a wire and the myelin is the insulator that prevents it from touching another nerve.”

Patti Murphy, the Hultmans’ friend and neighbor, said she has spent about five months planning a larger fund raiser scheduled to be held Sept. 12 at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave., in Chicago.

Murphy was surprised to hear about the fund raiser taking place in Evanston.

“First I was soliciting donations for our big fund raiser,” she said. “And the next thing I knew saw an ad in the paper advertising ‘Aaron’s dessert.'”

Murphy said she and Greene have been trying to lead the fund-raising efforts so the Hultmans can care for Aaron.

She said the family was exhausted upon returning from Minneapolis, after doctors decided not to do a second transplant when the first transplant failed.

“It’s great that there’s a lot of smaller fund raisers going on and that people are taking an interest and just giving,” Murphy said, “and giving (Aaron’s parents) help so they can focus on just Aaron.”