Andrew Luck, Hoosier community work to tackle DIPG

Andrew Luck, Hoosier community work to tackle DIPG
Wayland Villars (family photo)

It is a deadly form of cancer in children and it recently claimed the life of college basketball player Lauren Hill. This weekend, another Hoosier family teamed up with Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck to help find a cure for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG.

"Going into January [2012], we noticed neurological signs like being clumsy, drooling a lot, like he was teething, and starting to get sharp head pains," said Amber Villars of her then-3-year-old son, Wayland.

Diagnosed with a vicious childhood brain tumor in 2012, Wayland didn't quite make it until his 5th birthday. His parents, from Noblesville, say his impact is far greater than his age.

"As parents, you try to teach your kids to mind their manners and that kind of stuff, but he taught us I think how to be strong, really not fear things. He approached all of his medical challenges with this amazing, 'I'm not ready yet. I'll tell you when I'm ready' and he did it," said Wayland's dad, Ben Villars.

Wayland died of the same form of cancer as now-famous college basketball player Lauren Hill. Like Lauren, Wayland is making a difference in his death.

The Villars donated Wayland's tumor to a research lab at Stanford University.

"Tumor donations like those that the Villars family have provided is really the only way that we can begin to get a handle on this disease," said Stanford Neuro-Oncologist Dr. Michelle Monje.

While Stanford is where Wayland's samples are being studied, it is also where Stanford alum Andrew Luck came in.

Through connections with his alma mater, Luck hosted a football camp at the Incrediplex Sunday to raise money to cure DIPG.

"It's a Stanford connection to Wayland Warriors, and Stanford hospital so it's always unique with an Indiana connection," Luck said after the camp on Sunday.

"Really it's the hardest cancer to get at because it's in the brain stem. If you can cure that, all cancers should be cured," Villars said.

While researchers believe they are chipping away at the cancer that killed Lauren and Wayland, there are still so many yards left to run.

Each year, about 200 kids are diagnosed with DIPG; a vast majority die within a year and a half of diagnosis. Wayland's parents hope his and Lauren Hill's legacies lead to a cure. You can learn more at the Wayland's Warriors website.