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2023 Free Care Fund: Telethon junior co-host Elizabeth faces leukemia diagnosis with "grit and grace" at UPMC Children's Hospital

70th KDKA Free Care Fund Telethon: Elizabeth Loughren
70th KDKA Free Care Fund Telethon: Elizabeth Loughren 05:16

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - During the summer of 2021, Elizabeth Loughren, of Oakmont, was like any other 10-year-old girl, until she wasn't.

"I was having a lot of headaches and throwing up. And, then, I was beginning to have headaches and throwing up every day," said Loughren.

Elizabeth with her brothers, Jack and Carter.   KDKA-TV

At first, doctors thought maybe it was migraines.

"Then, we went back to the hospital to get some blood work, and my blood was as thick as honey," added Loughren.

Doctors at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh delivered the devastating news. Loughren had leukemia and needed to start chemotherapy immediately.

"I was scared. I didn't know what it was going to be like. And I was nervous," said Loughren.

During her initial round of treatments, as if that wasn't enough, Loughren also had a seizure and then appendicitis. Eventually, all was going as well as it could.

Then, last November, Elizabeth went in for a lumbar puncture.

"From that they found there was leukemia in her spinal fluid. So, it had come back," said Elizabeth's mom, Lindsay Loughren.

That meant Elizabeth would then need radiation throughout her entire body and a bone marrow transplant.

"So, first we tested my family to see if they were matches. None of them were. So, then the next step was to find matches. So, we found two matches. And then, on March 3 of this year, I had my transplant," said Elizabeth.

Through it all, Elizabeth's parents say they've had tremendous support, starting with her older brothers.

"The older one, Jack, would take his shoes that he plays baseball, basketball and football in, and he would put '8-3-21 EBL', Elizabeth's initials. And Carter plays golf, so he got a golf ball made with 'Raider Tough' for Riverview Raiders. And the whole golf team had these golf balls for the season in honor of Elizabeth," Elizabeth's dad, Mike Loughren, said.

But, they also know they wouldn't be where they are today without UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

"All of her doctors have been absolutely fantastic. The whole staff. Everybody. From the people who are feeding you in the cafeteria to the people signing you in to the hospital," said Mike and Lindsay Loughren.

"They're wonderful. They treat you like family. They make it feel like home, especially 'Child Life' is very helpful," Elizabeth said.

The Loughren's were so moved by what they saw at the hospital that they started a foundation called Grit and Grace.

"Elizabeth, we think, is the perfect combination of grit and grace," said Lindsay Loughren.

All money raised goes to families with children on the oncology, hematology and bone marrow transplant floor.

"Anything they need. Whether it is just a gift card for gas, or whether they need help paying an electric bill. Whether they need a meal out. Whatever it is," Lindsay added.

This fall, Elizabeth returned to school. She's now 12 and in the seventh grade, and she also got back to the sports she loves.

"I play basketball, soccer and horseback riding," said Loughren.

Her parents are grateful, and hopeful, for the future.

"I just want to see her be happy and healthy and do whatever she wants to do," said Lindsay Loughren.

"My hope is that Elizabeth never forgets all of the love that is there for her," Mike added.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth has this advice for other children facing tough battles like she did: "Definitely lean to your family and friends. Talk to them. And it's okay to just cry all night long. Just use what you have and appreciate it," she said.

Elizabeth will be serving as one of this year's Junior Co-Hosts for the 70th annual KDKA-TV Free Care Fund Telethon.

The Free Care Fund at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh ensures no child is denied medical care, regardless of their family's ability to pay.

And it's your generous donations that keep that fund going, year after year.

Please join us on Thursday Dec. 14 from 3 until 8 p.m. on KDKA-TV for the 70th annual Free Care Fund Telethon and make a donation.

Written by Executive Producer of Special Projects Corey Martin

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