Avon

By Nicole Hennessy

In its second year, the Prayers From Maria

sunflower field along I-90 in Avon continues to draw crowds and interest from all over Northeast Ohio, even as the flowers grown from 2 million seeds wilt late in the season.

Planted by Ed and Megan McNamara, in memory of their daughter Maria, who died from a rare brain cancer in 2007, the flowers also benefit the couple’s cancer research foundation, which they’ve been raising money for since learning their daughter was sick.

Plans are for yet a larger field next year. At the end of the sunflower season, Ed McNamara sat down with The Press to talk about what the flowers have helped his foundation achieve.

Q: People seem to be drawn to this sunflower field. Why do you think that is?

A: I think people look for a place of solitude and quietness and wellness, a place where they can

remember the good and people they know or have known or have loved. I think the sunflower field

offers that.

Q: Was it important to add that type of space to a busy city like Avon?

A: I think Avon represents a true American city, where our whole world has become fast-paced, so I think putting it there is showing that it’s a hip, cool place to be, but even there, you can find a little quiet and tranquility.

Q: The response was so huge last year. Were you surprised at how interested people were in this

project?

A: We were stunned and we were humbled because we planted (the flowers) to create awareness for the children that have and are affected by brain tumors. That’s why we planted along the freeway with a sign. We didn’t even expect or realize that people would want to stop through and take photos. We were very surprised that they wanted to be closer, so we were happy, this year to make it much larger – about 20 times larger – and we put walking paths through it this year, so people could actually walk through it.

Q: How much money have you guys been able to raise, and what projects have you been able to work on as a result of the flowers and the attention they’ve drawn?

A: We receive donations every day and we put all that money towards research to try to find a cure for brain tumor gliomas. I don’t think that people realize that the little bit that they give, whether it’s $1 or $5 or $50, that money goes towards research to try to find an end to childhood brain tumors. It’s impactful. The few grants we’ve given out have turned from $100,000 to $3.3 million (in government and other funds since the initial grant) and a $250,000 grant given to further the research childhood brain tumors (and an additional $100,000 grant), it’s phenomenal.

Q: People who donate to these causes sometimes feel helpless, like all the research is done, but they sometimes don’t see results. Are there any interesting studies that have come out with results that make you feel like you’re headed in the right direction?

A: Yes, there’s been three … three different studies we’ve funded. The one we funded – the Case Western (Reserve University) and Metro (Health System) grant – they have determined that they might be able to … go into phase two and three studies to actually try and create a drug that can be given to adults and children to help stop cancer. The Dana-Farber grant we did found a certain gene, for the first time ever, that showed up in cancer, so now they’re able to try to find where that gene comes from so they can either do testing to say, “You’re susceptible to cancer,” or to try to change that gene. The last (grant) we gave away, which was to Case Western and University Hospitals, they’re finding a way to distribute chemotherapy that will have less toxicity. All this money goes toward the best possible solution at the time of the grant.

Q: Of all the things you could plant, why sunflowers?

A: When Maria first was sick, we had to take her to St. Jude (Children’s Research Hospital) down in Memphis, Tenn. It was very hard to communicate with people, so our friends created a website/blog for us to post information that people would come and look at. When they created this blog, they took pictures of Maria, and they took this one picture and they put her in a field of sunflowers. That was on the main page. It’s called Prayers For Maria, as opposed to from. It took off and the sunflower became a representation of Maria and her fight and her battle. When she was at St. Jude’s she prayed for all the other kids to get better instead of herself. When she passed we … carried on her mission, carried on her prayers. Her Prayers From Maria is because we want to continue her prayers to help all the other children afflicted. The sunflower is such a vibrant flower. It’s a radiant flower. It’s so childlike and it gives so much meaning that we just continued with the sunflower, and it’s been our beacon and our symbol ever since.

For volunteer opportunities, special events and to donate visit prayersfrommaria.org.

Contact Nicole Hennessy at nicohenness@gmail.com

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