Jefferson Awards profile: Katie Caldwell-Burchett

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CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - Katie Caldwell-Burchett turned tragedy into a mission. Weeks after the 2013 death of her daughter Olivia Caldwell, she created a foundation in her honor.

Katie Caldwell-Burchett holds her late daughter Olivia Caldwell.

“[Caldwell-Burchett] has such a vision and she was built for this job and for this mission,” Olivia Caldwell Foundation board president Drew Ballew said.

The Olivia Caldwell Foundation’s original purpose was to raise money for pediatric brain cancer research. In 2019, it’s mission expanded as it now supports a pediatric specialty clinic in Casper staffed by specialists from Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“I never could have imagined what this would have turned into. It really really amazes me and makes me so thankful to know that my little girl has really transformed so many things about our life here,” Caldwell-Burchett said.

Olivia was one year old when she died from pediatric brain cancer.

Caldwell-Burchett said she needed to use her grief to do something constructive to avoid shutting down.

“When she passed away I was just left with this giant hole in my heart and this desire to want to do something to remember my daughter and to really keep being her mom,” she said.

“The striking thing about Katie was out of this tragedy she has done so much to help other children with brain tumors,” said Dr. Nicholas Foreman, chair of neuro-oncology at Children’s Hospital Colorado and the University of Colorado.

Foreman was Olivia’s doctor.

The foundation has given Foreman and his research team around $425,000 since 2013. It has sponsored seven research projects and helped contribute to around 30.

“What’s really amazing about the work that we've been able to do there is that they’ve actually used our funding to find a cure for several types of pediatric brain cancer including the one that stole the life of my daughter,” Caldwell-Burchett said.

Foreman said his team was committed to doing this research regardless of the Olivia Caldwell Foundation’s generosity but its work did speed things up.

“It would have taken much much longer and it would not have impacted so many children so quickly,” he said.

Caldwell-Burchett said the foundation’s goal is to support families dealing with pediatric brain cancer or other serious pediatric medical conditions.

“We’re making things better wherever we possibly can so that maybe childhood cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” she said.

Caldwell-Burchett is one of four 2020 Wyoming Jefferson Awards finalists.