Best Uncle Ever
By Marla Lehner
In thanks for his nephew’s life-changing care, JP LeVeque raised an impressive $115,000 to support CHLA—and all he had to do was run the L.A. Marathon.
Early on the morning of March 24, 2019, JP LeVeque sprinted through the starting line of the Los Angeles Marathon full of excitement. After about an hour of running, his energy started to flag—until he was reinvigorated by the sight of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Sunset campus.
“It was really nice to see Children’s,” says JP. “It was an emotional experience.” He had decided to run the marathon a couple of months earlier—not enough time to properly train—but JP was committed to doing it to raise money for CHLA, where his nephew, Sebastian, had received life-changing care.
Running by the institution where “Bash,” as his family calls him, had been hospitalized flooded JP with memories of that difficult time—and gratitude that Bash is now a happy, healthy baby.
It started Oct. 16, 2018: Chris and Kelly LeVeque were at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica preparing to welcome their first child. Kelly, a nutritionist and wellness expert, had gone into labor nearly 24 hours earlier, when finally she gave birth to an 8-pound, 9-ounce boy. The doctors brought baby Sebastian to his thrilled parents—but whisked him away moments later. “It was the best and worst moment of my life,” says Kelly. “He was laid on my chest for seconds, then he was transferred to a baby warmer and someone hit an alarm.”
At birth, Sebastian displayed signs of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a condition that occurs when a baby is deprived of oxygen during pregnancy or delivery. Babies suspected of having HIE need to be treated with hypothermia therapy—an intervention that reduces the risk or extent of brain injury by lowering the overall body temperature—but it must be administered within six hours of birth.
JP was a few blocks away waiting for word of his nephew’s birth when he received a text saying something was wrong. He rushed to the hospital, and when Sebastian and Chris were put into an ambulance headed for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, JP jumped in his car to follow them.
“When I got to the hospital, my brother said, ‘The doctors think Sebastian might have brain damage, but we don’t know,’” JP recalls. “But Chris’ response was so positive to the worst possible news. He said, ‘No matter what happens, I’m here for him.’ I felt like Chris really became a grown-up in that moment. It was the first time I’d seen him as a parent and I could not have been prouder.”
The next few days were agonizing for the family. In CHLA’s Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit (NICCU), Sebastian was cooled to 92.3 degrees. Due to the therapy, no one could hold him—they could simply sit beside him and hope. “We were in purgatory from the moment we were told HIE was a possibility,” says Kelly. “Living with the unknown was so hard.”
Children with HIE can suffer from a variety of brain-related conditions and have lifelong disabilities. Hypothermia therapy minimizes the chances and severity of potential health issues, but doctors could not accurately predict Sebastian’s prognosis until he had undergone 72 hours of cooling.
“At CHLA, the doctors and nurses were exceptional and gave Bash amazing care,” says JP. “But it wasn’t just the doctors: Every person who worked there, top to bottom, was exceptional. They made my whole family feel comfortable. It felt like everyone had a common purpose.”
After three days, Bash was slowly rewarmed and underwent an MRI to look for signs of brain damage. To everyone’s relief, he received a clean bill of health: Aside from a small brain bleed that occurred during delivery and would resolve on its own, he was perfectly healthy.
"At CHLA ... every person who worked there, top to bottom, was exceptional. They made my whole family feel comfortable. It felt like everyone had a common purpose."
“An unremarkable brain MRI, along with normal EEG findings, are the optimal results,” says Tai-Wei Wu, MD, the neonatologist who oversaw Sebastian’s care. “It was a pleasure to give the LeVeque family this good news.”
Sebastian remained in the NICCU for another two weeks, and went home on Oct. 31 as a healthy newborn.
“Childbirth is a miracle,” says Chris. “Between the incredible care we received at CHLA, the results of Bash’s MRI, and finally getting the green light to go home, we felt like we’d been blessed with miracles two, three, four and more.”
Chris, Kelly and Sebastian quickly settled into life as a new family. Everyone was grateful for Bash’s good health—but JP could not shake the feeling that he should honor their good fortune. At CHLA, he had seen countless families coping with their own children’s health crises, and he knew many of them were still there facing critical diagnoses.
“You can’t help but put yourself in their shoes,” says JP. “I wondered, ‘Why did we get so lucky?’ I felt like I had to somehow give back.”
Searching for an idea, JP landed on one that would lead him through a little more than 26 miles. Calling himself “a regular person who runs,” he had never considered running more than his usual 3 to 5 miles—until he got the idea to do the marathon to celebrate Sebastian and support CHLA.
Before he could change his mind, JP began telling people about his plan. He set up a fundraising page at CHLA.org/FUNDRAISE and sent an email to friends, family and peers announcing his intentions. As soon as he hit send, though, JP began to worry.
“If I couldn’t finish the race or raise the money, I’d feel embarrassed,” says JP, who had set a $20,000 fundraising goal.
As it turned out, he had no reason to fret. Within two days, he had raised nearly $15,000. He was astonished by people’s generosity: Many gave larger gifts than he ever expected, donating $100, $250 or even $500.
JP works in commercial real estate, which he describes as a generous community. He had sent his solicitation to many industry contacts, including Jeffrey Worthe, whom JP had known for years and who is Chair of the Board of Directors at CHLA. Although JP thought Worthe might support his efforts, he never anticipated his generosity: “Jeff said he and his wife, Kristin, would match whatever I raised.”
As the date of the marathon neared, JP surpassed his goal, raising more than $50,000. As promised, the Worthe family matched the funds, ultimately helping JP raise a whopping $115,603.
About 2 miles from the marathon’s finish line, a group of JP’s friends and family—including Chris, Kelly and Sebastian—gathered to cheer him on.
“We made huge signs and rallied our friends,” says Kelly. “We were tracking him on the app and knew when he was going to run by. We were all screaming. Chris even dropped his poster and started running with JP. I started crying. It was really emotional for us.”
Later that day, the group gathered at JP’s home to celebrate. “It felt like the bow on the gift of Sebastian’s health,” says Kelly. “We all needed that positive experience to wrap it up.”
JP says the journey—from his successful fundraising to completing the marathon—was more rewarding than he had imagined, but he is modest about his achievement.
“It’s not about me,” he says. “All I did was send out an email and go running. It’s all about the generous people who donated. There were 200 individuals and families who stepped up and gave. I think that’s what’s so impressive.”
As for the future, look for JP at the Los Angeles Marathon in 2020. “I’m going to run again to raise more for CHLA,” he says, “and try to beat my time.”
Chris—who plans to join his big brother in the marathon—is touched by JP’s dedication to his family. “My brother has shown us the true meaning of love, sacrifice and selflessness,” he says. “Bash is beyond lucky to have him in his life. He’s the best uncle, ever.”
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is proud to be a featured charity partner of the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon. To register, go to: LAMarathon.com. Join as a charity runner for CHLA and do more with your race.
To help support Children's Hospital Los Angeles, please visit CHLA.org/Donate.