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Inclined to Give Back


By Mary Daily

Published Jul 1, 2014 8:00 AM

As a patient at Mattel Children's Hospital, Cameron Cohen noticed something missing. He was determined to fill the need.


Photo by Christina Gandolfo.

When 11-year-old Cameron Cohen spent 10 days in Mattel Children's Hospital in 2009, following surgery for a benign bone tumor, he had an iPod Touch to entertain him. But he noticed that most of the other patients didn't have electronic devices.

That observation stuck with him while he recuperated at home in a heavy hip-to-toe cast for the next six months. Left out of the sports and games he had normally played with his friends, Cohen didn't have time to feel sorry for himself. He focused on learning the programming language for iPhone applications, watching online iTunes University lectures and studying Apple manuals and tutorials. Then he applied those new skills to create an inexpensive app for drawing on the iPhone. He named it iSketch and got it accepted for sale in Apple's iTunes app store, where it became a hit.

With payment from Apple in hand, the young inventor wasted no time in donating $20,000 to help buy iPads, iPod Touches and software for preteen and teen patients to enjoy while hospitalized at UCLA. "Other kids need things to help them feel better, too. I'm really excited that I can make a difference," he says, adding that his parents taught him the importance of giving back. iSketch was the first app downloaded onto the new equipment.

Patients can check out the devices for four hours at a time and use them with supervision from a parent, hospital staff member or trained volunteer. In that way, even those in isolation can communicate with their peers.

"Our staff has found that the devices can be used for procedural preparation as well as distraction," says Kellye Carroll, director of the Chase Child Life Program at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. "They were a great gift."

Two years later, Cohen, by now a 13-year-old eighth-grader, was at it again. He created another app for iPhones and iPads called AnimalGrams (and AnimalGrams HD). This time he donated part of the proceeds from both AnimalGrams and iSketch to Noah Federman, an assistant professor of pediatric hematology-oncology and director of the pediatric bone and soft tissue sarcoma program at Mattel Children's Hospital.

Federman's research focuses on using nanoparticles to treat pediatric sarcomas, which are aggressive and often lethal cancers of the bone and soft tissue. The survival rate for patients with these types of cancers when they have spread or relapsed is about 20 percent, even with aggressive chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatments.

"I feel a direct connection to Dr. Federman's research," Cohen says, "as I had a tumor in my leg bone, though mine was fortunately benign. His research on treatment of pediatric bone cancer is extremely innovative and will hopefully lead to breakthroughs that will make an incredible difference in many kids' lives."