Please note that some translations using Google Translate may not be accurately represented and downloaded documents cannot be translated. Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund assume no liability for inaccuracies that may result from using this third-party tool, which is for website translation.
Please note that some translations using Google Translate may not be accurately represented and downloaded documents cannot be translated. Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund assume no liability for inaccuracies that may result from using this third-party tool, which is for website translation.

Young patient inspires new fund at Dana-Farber

Orli Wildman Halpern
Orli was photographed by Abby Greenawalt as part of the exhibit “Well Rounded,” featuring profiles of baldness.

Summer 2024
By Colleen Sullivan
Photography by Abby Greenawalt

In a video recorded in early 2021, a then 12-year-old Orli Wildman Halpern explained to a live New York Times audience over Instagram the experience of living with, and through, treatments for hepatoblastoma, a rare liver cancer primarily seen in toddlers. “I wouldn’t recommend cancer to learn,” Orli told viewers, “but I’ve learned a lot.” During cancer treatments, including a successful liver transplant in 2020 at Boston Children’s Hospital with continued chemotherapy administered by oncologists at Dana-Farber, Orli chronicled the trajectory of her illness over social media.

Diagnosed in late 2019, Orli kept journals, danced live for cancer fundraisers, wrote articles, and narrated her story over TikTok. “I have a question,” she’d ask providers, often surprising them with her detailed understanding.

Orli, who died in March 2023 at age 14, left an indelible mark on all who came into contact with her. Her passing, and the struggles of older children facing hepatoblastoma, inspired her parents and loved ones to honor her life. In one especially moving gesture, a family friend recently made a generous gift to establish the Orli Wildman Halpern Endowed Fund for the Pediatric Liver Center of Excellence, which will support research led by one of Orli’s doctors, Allison O’Neill, MD.

“Going to Dana-Farber was probably the single best decision we made over the course of Orli’s care.”

Ian Halpern

“When our friend asked us where we would we want this funding to go, without any hesitation we said Dana-Farber,” said Ian Halpern, Orli’s father. “Going to Boston Children’s/Dana-Farber was probably the single best decision we made over the course of the three and half years of Orli’s care.”

O’Neill is a leading expert in pediatric hepatoblastoma and serves as director of the Liver Tumor Center of Excellence, a joint initiative between Dana-Farber and Boston Children’s Hospital. Established in 2022, the center has already launched two clinical trials studying immunotherapies and investigating the tumor microenvironment in hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma—two forms of pediatric liver cancer. These studies aim to shed light on the biological mechanisms that enable drug resistance, with the ultimate goal of identifying new, more effective drug targets for patients like Orli.

“My team is constantly working to improve the care delivery algorithm and clinical therapies we provide pediatric patients with advanced liver cancer,” said O’Neill. “Our consistent goals are to improve treatment outcomes, mitigate toxicities, and ensure a better quality of life for children undergoing treatment. As we continue our work in expanding and refining treatment options beyond chemotherapy, this funding from Orli’s loved one is going to make an incredible difference for patients.”

“We felt very, very fortunate to have come under the wing of Dr. O’Neill,” said Halpern. “Not only was the care exemplary, but the work Dr. O’Neill is doing has the greatest chance of success for helping other families.”

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