Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Charity fills void for Chace's parents

Couple have immersed themselves in fundraising for others since their brave little boy lost his cancer battle.

Keri and Ryan Topperwien set up the charity after their son Chace died in June. Photo / Christine Cornege
Keri and Ryan Topperwien set up the charity after their son Chace died in June. Photo / Christine Cornege

A charity in memory of Chace Topperwien, the little boy whose brave cancer battle captured the hearts of thousands, is living up to the legacy left by its namesake.

The Dream Chaser Foundation - A Chace Topperwien Charity has already touched the lives of other child cancer sufferers and their families through donations, raising money and boosting awareness of the need for bone marrow donors.

The charity was set up by Chace's parents, Ryan and Keri Topperwien, after their only child died in June from a rare and aggressive form of leukaemia.

So far the foundation has donated toys and a fish tank to the Starship and Ronald McDonald House in Auckland, and raised $7000 at a fun run in a "sea of yellow" T-shirts - 3-year-old Chace's favourite colour.

But most importantly, the charity has encouraged at least nine people to become bone marrow donors and more than 50 to sign up for the blood test.

One person who became a donor because of Chace has now been called on as a bone marrow match.

Dream Chaser is targeting ethnic donations, particularly from Maori and Pacific Islanders, because when Chace - who was of Ngati Awa and Ngati Porou descent - desperately needed a bone marrow match, none could be found worldwide.

The number of Maori and Pacific Island bone marrow donors is tiny compared with Europeans.

It meant Chace had to have a stem cell transplant which ultimately was not successful.

Mrs Topperwien said a bone marrow drive in Gisborne and the East Cape had been a success, with three van loads of people travelling from Ruatoria to be tested by the New Zealand Blood service.

She said one of the charity's main goals was to become synonymous with bone marrow donation.

"We want people to say, 'Oh Dream Chaser they do bone marrow'."

The Topperwiens have spread the word at a Ngati Awa festival in their home town of Whakatane, and as guest speakers at a corporate dinner in Cambridge in early November, the same day the charity became official.

They are planning a Chace'em Fun Run in Whakatane on January 19 similar to one held at Hamilton's Lake Rotoroa in November, which they aim to make an annual event.

The couple, both 29, have also secured sponsorship of the "Joy Jar" - made by American girl Jessie Rees who died of cancer in May this year.

The jars, made famous through social media, are filled with fun knick-knacks for sick children and will be given away by the charity.

Later in the year Dream Chaser will hold a charity ball and a fight night in Hamilton, to help pay for renovations to extend Ronald McDonald House, followed by a summer concert featuring family friends Kora.

Another initiative includes securing a celebrity to represent the foundation, which has the backing of expatriate businessmen Eric Watson and Owen Glenn.

The charity's momentum has met a few stumbling blocks, but the couple have been learning on the job.

Mrs Topperwien, who works full-time as the charity's director, said while Dream Chaser gave her strength to get through each day, she and her husband were taking some time out over Christmas and the New Year.

"We just cancelled Christmas. It was always about Chace and Chace's presents. It just means nothing to us any more.

"New Year will be even tougher. It was the most shattering time ever for us [in 2011] because we found out New Year's Eve [that Chace had relapsed]."

He was given only weeks to live, but fought for six months.

After he died, the couple decided to use money left over from a fundraising campaign for an expensive drug trial in London to fund the charity.

Now they subscribe to the motto of Jessie Rees - "Never Ever Give Up" or "NEGU", a motto Chace seemed to live by.

For more information visit www.dreamchaser.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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