Gray taking fight to pediatric tumors


By Dillon Davis - [email protected]



The Natalie Gray Foundation (NGF) recently donated $250,000 to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Pictured, left to right, are Chris Marston, NGF president; Jennifer Gray, Natalie’s mom; Natalie Gray, brain cancer warrior; Shawn Wagner, NGF board member; Trevor Gray, Natalie’s dad; and Melanie Farkas, NGF board member.

The Natalie Gray Foundation (NGF) recently donated $250,000 to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Pictured, left to right, are Chris Marston, NGF president; Jennifer Gray, Natalie’s mom; Natalie Gray, brain cancer warrior; Shawn Wagner, NGF board member; Trevor Gray, Natalie’s dad; and Melanie Farkas, NGF board member.


Courtesy photo | Natalie Gray Foundation

Olentangy Liberty High School freshman Natalie Gray is pictured prior to the school’s homecoming dance.


Courtesy photo | Natalie Gray Foundation

Olentangy Liberty High School freshman Natalie Gray is determined to use the reality of her medical condition to serve as a beacon of hope for all children whose lives will be threatened by pediatric brain tumors in the future.

On Sept. 20, Gray and her family were at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) in Columbus to announce a five-year, $250,000 commitment to the Collaborative Network for Neuro-oncology Clinical Trials (CONNECT) consortium through her namesake Natalie Gray Foundation.

NCH Co-Executive Director of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology and CONNECT Founder Maryam Fouladi was on hand for the announcement, as was NCH Director of Planned Giving Lori Aiello and Leonie Mikael, a senior scientific writer with CONNECT.

CONNECT conducts clinical trials in high-risk pediatric brain tumors to investigate combinations of novel drugs with traditional therapies with the goal of improving the outcomes in the worst childhood brain tumors through innovative discoveries, according to its website.

Gray began having severe headaches last June before finally going to the emergency room with a strong sense that something was severely wrong. She was quickly transferred to NCH, where an MRI showed a tumor that was blocking the cerebrospinal fluid in her brain from draining.

“It was super shocking and really scary,” Gray told The Gazette of the moments following her diagnosis. “It was very devastating. I honestly didn’t know what to think in the moment because I think I was kind of in shock. It was scary because, as a middle schooler and just a teenager in general, you want to have a normal life. You want to do the things all the other teenagers get to do, and this was definitely a big boulder that stopped me from a lot of normal things in life.”

Two emergency brain surgeries ensued, beginning with a procedure to drain the fluid and then a second to place a permanent ventriculoperitoneal shunt to allow for the continuous drainage of the excess fluid. The tumor is located in the middle of Gray’s brain and sits on her optic nerve and the hypothalamus, rendering any procedure to remove the tumor too dangerous to attempt.

Ever the optimist and stoic beyond her years, however, Gray would not let the gravity of her circumstances consume her outlook on the arduous road ahead. Instead, she was simply thankful there would, in fact, be days to come.

Gray said she realized she was given the tumor for a reason and, faced with a choice while still recovering from her surgeries, decided she was going to do something to make the most of her situation. That something was beginning her own foundation with the mission to help ensure other children who share her plight have the same hope she’s been given.

“Even though I was in so much pain, I just thought about how lucky I was to be in the situation to have all the resources and the doctors and nurses who were able to operate on me,” Gray said. “I realized how a lot of other kids don’t get that opportunity, and a lot of them lose their lives. I felt so lucky and grateful to be alive after two brain surgeries.

“And yeah, I have to live with this tumor in me for the rest of my life. But because of research, I’m able to do normal activities that the normal human can do.”

Gray’s mother, Jennifer Gray, said it’s been “so incredibly touching” to see how her daughter has handled herself in the face of so much adversity at such a young age.

“I never thought I could be this proud,” Jennifer Gray said. “I’ve always been proud of my kids. … But this really takes the cake. Some days it’s hard for me to cope with her diagnosis. But to see her with a smile on her face, having a positive attitude, and just having this approach of wanting to make lemonade out of lemons and help others, it’s inspirational for me. I’m inspired by Natalie.”

The Natalie Gray Foundation held its inaugural golf tournament last October, which also included a silent auction and raffles. The outing raised $50,000, far exceeding even Natalie Gray’s most optimistic expectations for the event.

“I was very shocked at the end of the night. … I thought it was going to be way lower,” Natalie Gray said of the inaugural event. “That was definitely encouraging. After I saw the response last year, I kind of took it and ran with it. I figured we could really do something with this foundation and this money to help save children’s lives.”

The outpouring of support also further sparked Natalie Gray, her family, and her foundation to aspire towards having an even larger impact on the fight to better understand and treat pediatric brain tumors.

“We looked at it and said we really want to make an impact, and we don’t want this to be a one-and-done deal,” Jennifer Gray said. “We want to keep Natalie’s story going to continue helping others who are diagnosed with this terrible cancer. We did some research and found that pediatric cancer is severely underfunded, so we thought, ‘Let’s make a big commitment, a big splash. Let’s make this memorable.’”

Having seen what is possible through the golf outing, as well as through her other events and community sponsors, Natalie Gray and her foundation team are hoping to put an even larger dent in the $250,000 commitment to CONNECT with this year’s outing, which will be held on Oct. 18 at Kinsale Golf in Powell.

“It honestly means the world,” Natalie Gray said of the community’s support for her cause. “I really cannot do this without the community. I always think that without this foundation, without this community, I feel like I would feel so much more alone. But from the support from my community, I never feel alone, and I always feel like not only does my family have my back, but the whole Powell community has my back. Whatever I need, I know there are so many people who are there for me, and it means the world to me. I owe them all the gratitude.”

While the past 15 months have forced Natalie Gray to adapt in ways no child should have to experience, they have also served to give her a level of maturity and perspective that are not commonly found in a high school freshman.

“I’ve realized what problems matter in the world and what problems are just small,” she said. “I used to sweat the small stuff, and now, I’ve just learned to be far more grateful and just really take in those little moments that are happy and special and not take them for granted.

“There are times when I really do miss not knowing I had this brain tumor, or there are times when I’ve felt really sick from chemotherapy and I just really wanted to feel like a normal kid again. So those times that I do get to feel like a normal human and feel good, I’ve just realized I can’t take them for granted because it’s something so little but also so amazing at the same time.”

Asked what she hopes her efforts represent to all who will be impacted by the donations, Natalie Gray said, “I want this to give them hope. I hope it encourages them to keep going. And ultimately, I hope that it saves their lives. I hope these clinical trials, the research, and the medicine that we are getting to support treats those tumors, and I hope that they are able to not only be a normal teenager but also just live and be happy and know they’re still human and the medical diagnosis does not define them.”

To learn more about the Natalie Gray Foundation or to donate or sign up for this year’s golf outing, visit www.nataliegrayfoundation.org.

The Natalie Gray Foundation (NGF) recently donated $250,000 to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Pictured, left to right, are Chris Marston, NGF president; Jennifer Gray, Natalie’s mom; Natalie Gray, brain cancer warrior; Shawn Wagner, NGF board member; Trevor Gray, Natalie’s dad; and Melanie Farkas, NGF board member.
https://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2022/10/web1_Gray-check-at-game.jpgThe Natalie Gray Foundation (NGF) recently donated $250,000 to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Pictured, left to right, are Chris Marston, NGF president; Jennifer Gray, Natalie’s mom; Natalie Gray, brain cancer warrior; Shawn Wagner, NGF board member; Trevor Gray, Natalie’s dad; and Melanie Farkas, NGF board member. Courtesy photo | Natalie Gray Foundation

Olentangy Liberty High School freshman Natalie Gray is pictured prior to the school’s homecoming dance.
https://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2022/10/web1_Natalie-HOCO-2022.jpgOlentangy Liberty High School freshman Natalie Gray is pictured prior to the school’s homecoming dance. Courtesy photo | Natalie Gray Foundation

By Dillon Davis

[email protected]

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.