Inspiring Determination: St. Jude patient finishes his first 5K to raise money for research hospital.

Ayaan walked and ‘ran in bursts’ during his first St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend and wants to participate again in 2024.

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St. Jude patient Ayaan finishes his first 5K

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Seven-year-old Ayaan was tired, but he rushed past marathon runners, got closer to the curb, and continued to run. He waved at spectators who cheered, held signs and encouraged him and others at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon® to keep going. 

He had walked most of the 5K course, with several minutes of running in between. But when he reached the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, he began to speed up again and smiled.   

Ayaan had seen familiar faces earlier along the route, including some of his teachers from his Tennessee elementary school. But on the St. Jude campus, he saw fellow patients. Children like him undergoing treatment for cancer at the research hospital. It was the boost he needed to push forward. 

“When I saw St. Jude, I started running a lot," he said. “It felt really good.” 

Ayaan, sporting a blue and black bandana around his forehead, crossed the finish line in 59 minutes. He reached his goal. He wanted to complete the 5K, the first one he had ever done, in under an hour.   

“I got really happy when I saw the finish line,” he said.  

His mother, Himani, was elated to see how often Ayaan picked up his pace throughout the course. She too participated in the 5K, walking and running beside him. But on the morning of the marathon, she wondered whether Ayaan, who is being treated at St. Jude for leukemia and is on chemotherapy, would still want to participate. 

“When he walks long distances his feet hurt, so it doesn’t make running or walking easy,” she explained. “But anytime he wanted to take a break, someone would cheer him on, and it gave him so much energy and he would run in bursts, which to me was extraordinary.”  

Ayaan has always been an active boy with varied interests. He bikes, golfs and skis. He also loves to solve combination puzzles and enjoys singing. His favorite are songs from Ed Sheeran and the Italian rock band, Måneskin.  

He was just as active when he was 5 years old and diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer that affects the white blood cells. Ayaan was asymptomatic, and the diagnosis came after he went for an annual checkup. Ayaan was referred to St. Jude where leukemia studies have pioneered the way the world treats childhood leukemia. St. Jude patients with ALL have a 94% survival rate. 

“We were in denial at first,” said Himani, a physician, who had just given birth to her third child at the time. “He was not a kid who had bruises or was constantly sick or had fatigue or was not doing well. He was thriving.” 

At St. Jude, a day after his diagnosis, Ayaan received his first dose of chemotherapy. Himani said the first year of treatment was overwhelming. 

“Each day is a new and different kind of struggle,” she said.   

St. Jude patient Ayaan finishes his first 5K

Ayaan is scheduled to complete treatment in the summer of 2024. Himani said St. Jude has taken care of her son in so many ways. For instance, she said, members of the child life specialist team helped Ayaan learn to take some of his medicine. He would practice eating chocolate candy first, and then eventually he became an expert in swallowing his chemotherapy pills.  

The goal of child life specialists is to help children cope with the challenges of health care and hospitalization. These services are offered to all families in all clinical areas. 

But besides providing treatment and help to Ayaan, Himani said, St. Jude and its staff have helped and encouraged the rest of her family, too.  

“I feel, we like a family, mattered to them, and I haven’t seen many places like that,” she said. “Yes, I had heard of St. Jude as an outsider, but receiving that love, warmth and support is just incredible.” 

At the St. Jude marathon, Ayaan ran as part of “Team Ayaan,” which was formed by his dad, Prateek, and consisted of 78 people. The team raised around $11,000 for St. Jude, they said. 

Prateek, who was not a runner prior to the marathon, registered to run the half-marathon. Ayaan’s older sister, Anya, ran the 10K. Prateek said he wanted to challenge himself and do something that would require “dedication, perseverance, and hard work.”  

“Kids of St. Jude exemplify [those traits] every day,” he said.  

Ayaan also helped sway some of his young friends to join the team as well.  

“I just told them I was going to run, and so they also wanted to run,” Ayaan said.  

Ayaan plans to sign up for the 2024 St. Jude Memphis Marathon held in December. He wants to beat his time by about 20 minutes. He plans to start training earlier with long walks at a neighborhood park. He said he’s committed to raising funds for St. Jude and will participate as a St. Jude Hero®. St. Jude Heroes raise funds for the kids of St. Jude while they train for their race. 

“It was really fun and so I want to do it again," he said. 

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