Anniversary of Dubuque woman's death marked with donation - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Anniversary of Dubuque woman's death marked with donation

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

Two Eastern Iowa families took a big step Thursday in their mission to find a cure for pediatric heart defects and brain tumors.

They donated $92,196.87 to fund research at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital.

All the money comes from their third annual Ride for the Kids fundraiser in mid-September in Dubuque. Despite the commemoration, it was a very difficult day for the families.

Floor two of University of Iowa Children's Hospital is an all-too familiar destination for Mark and Julie Reiss. On Thursday, it was the site of the check donation, but, previously, it had been the site of many visits.

In May of 2008, doctors diagnosed their daughter Sarah Reiss, then 20, with brain cancer.

Months later, Sarah Reiss' cousin gave birth to a little boy, Matthew Wessels, who has a heart defect.

The two families then united and started the Ride for the Kids benefit, to raise money for a cure for both of these conditions. Over three years, the families have raised more than $180,000 for research.

Dr. Heather Bartlett is using the money for her research of heart defects.

"What they're doing is amazing," she said. "The goal would be to prevent this, and then, if you can't get that goal, the goal would be then to optimally treat congenital heart disease, and understanding how it happens will contribute to both of that."

Ride for the Kids has also helped fund important technology for the research of brain tumors, called a gallium generator.

Medical student researcher Kelsey Whittier said it's vital to her work.

"With it up and running, yes, my research wouldn't really be able to be done without the gallium generator," Whittier said.

"If we can just prevent one family from having to go through what Sarah did, that's what we're after," Mark Reiss said.

Exactly one year ago, Sarah Reiss, then 22, died at the hospital just hours after her family presented researchers with a check for $59,392.17.

"Sarah has most definitely been at our side since she passed," her father said.

"She's our inspiration, along with Matt. We have to keep doing this for them," Julie Reiss said. "She was a good girl."

The Reisses also have two younger twin daughters, who are in college.

As this Dubuque family well knows about Sarah, "She made a huge impact in her short life," her mother said.

It's an impact that continues to live on in the search for a cure.

The two families already have a date for next year's Ride for the Kids: Sept. 15, 2012. The ride's website has photos and information from previous years.

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