Bulldogs, Alanna Make Adoption Official with Visit from Friends of Jaclyn Foundation

Alanna and the Bulldogs. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Alanna and the Bulldogs. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Team Continues Relationship with Courageous Sixth Grader

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Alanna, a sixth grader being treated at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, has already been a major part of the Yale women's lacrosse team's season. Since meeting the team less than a month ago she has been to three games and has had Yale players by her side each week during treatment. On Tuesday, Alanna and the Bulldogs made the adoption official with a visit from Dennis Murphy of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. This was the 220th adoption for the program, which unites college teams across the country with children who have brain tumors.

Murphy started Friends of Jaclyn -- which paired the Yale men's lacrosse team with an adoptee earlier this year -- after his daughter was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at the age of nine in March of 2004. He saw how the relationship Jaclyn had with members of the Northwestern women's lacrosse team helped her brave the odds, while also enriching the lives of the student-athletes as well. Jaclyn is now 15 years old and a sophomore in high school, and she still keeps in touch with the Northwestern team.

On Tuesday -- after a brief introduction from Anne Phillips, Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Lacrosse -- Murphy spoke to the Yale team, Alanna and her family out at Smilow Field Center. He explained how the impact the Northwestern team had on Jaclyn inspired him to start a program to unite more teams with more children in need.

“The love, support and friendship she got from those players – all of these other kids have to have that,” Murphy said.

Murphy was joined by Danny Lam. Lam's daughter Devon was adopted by the Temple women's lacrosse program during the 2008 season, prior to her passing in December of that year.

“They gave her her childhood back again,” Lam said. “We learned to cherish and love each and every day, because we don't know what tomorrow brings.”

And as the Yale women's lacrosse players know from their time with Alanna, the players involved draw strength from their relationship with the adoptees. Murphy recalled hearing that sentiment from Northwestern players when they began bonding with Jaclyn.

“They told me, 'Mr. Murphy, we get more out of this than you do,'” he said. “It's a two-way street.”

In addition to outlining the current scope of the Friends of Jaclyn program, Murphy also described the future.

“My vision is global,” Murphy said. “At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center [the site of Jaclyn's treatment], we have children from around the world.”

Murphy has 1,300 teams currently on the Friends of Jaclyn waiting list, seeking children to adopt. One of the biggest challenges is simply generating awareness for the program so that families of children with brain tumors know that they can connect with these teams that are seeking adoptees. Murphy was quick to give credit to Yale assistant coaches Jillian Byers and Brigid Strain, who had been working since Byers joined the staff last fall to try to identify an appropriate child and cut through all the paperwork required to get approval. The Bulldogs had an added challenge because they specifically wanted a child with a lacrosse connection and one who was being treated at Smilow Cancer Hospital, given Joel E. Smilow '54's connection to both the hospital and Yale Athletics.

Alanna's family learned of the Bulldogs' search for an adoptee when she went for her first treatment at Smilow Cancer Hospital in February. She met the team in on Mar. 16 and was on hand the next day for her first game, a thrilling 8-7 win over Brown at Reese Stadium.

Alanna's mother, Jaime, described the impact that the program has already had on her daughter. In addition to seeing each other at the hospital and at games, Alanna and her Yale teammates now regularly exchange text messages. Alanna was at Reese for another big win on Apr. 3, 17-13 over archrival Harvard. Last weekend she convinced her mother to let her grandparents bring her to her first road game, at Princeton.

“There have been a lot of smiles on Alanna's face,” Jaime said. “I haven't seen her this way in a long time. She was so excited to go to the Princeton game. This has made Alanna want to do more things, rather than sitting on the couch. These girls are unbelievable. They are great role models for all three of my daughters.”

In addition to her connection with the Yale players Alanna has also benefitted from being one of the first patients at the newly opened Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, which consolidates all of the medical center's cancer services -- both inpatient and outpatient -- into a single world-class cancer hospital.

“It's amazing,” Jaime said of the hospital. “It blows away every other facility we have been to. It's unbelievable how patient-friendly it is. It has made our life so much easier.”

As part of Tuesday's event, Alanna joined the Bulldogs in a team-organized activity: making bracelets. She will be back at Reese on Saturday for Yale's 1 p.m. game vs. Columbia.

As the event wound down, Jaime summed up what everyone else was feeling as she looked at Alanna.

“Seeing the happiness on her face is what makes it all worth it.”

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity