by Allyson Bird
Office of Development & Alumni Affairs
When 11-year-old Harper realized she was dying, even before the full-time morphine pumps and constant nose bleeds, she told Jamie Drolet, "Dad, you have to find a cure so other children don't have to go through this."
Harper lost her struggle against a rare form of soft-tissue cancer on Sept. 30, 2011. Less than a year later, Jamie and his family plan to keep that promise to Harper with a tennis tournament to raise funds for research.
The Hugs for Harper Tennis Championship takes place Sept. 14 to 16 on Kiawah Island. The event evolved from a family friend's idea to honor Harper and holds special significance for the Drolet family: Jamie met Harper's mother, Amy, at Kiawah. Amy worked at the tennis center where Jamie played, and now their two younger daughters, 9-year-old Henderson and 5-year-old Helen, also play tennis.
Harper became known as "the Mayor of 7B," the pediatric oncology wing at MUSC where she received treatment, first in 2009 and 2010 and then again in 2011 after the cancer returned. She visited other patients, wrote them encouraging letters and comforted them before daunting procedures, since she had undergone them all.
Harper led a campaign to collect 7,000 toys for MUSC patients as her first treatment drew to a close. She spoke at fundraising events for other cancer patients and garnered more than 1,600 virtual friends who followed her treatment on a Hugs for Harper Facebook page.
Money raised at the tennis tournament will support hiring a researcher to work with Harper's physicians, Jacqueline Kraveka, D.O., and Michelle Hudspeth, M.D.
Hudspeth nicknamed Harper, "Chinchilla," because of the girl's short pixie haircut and her affinity for wearing fuzzy scarves. The physician remains in contact with Harper's family and keeps a memento of her energetic patient on her desk: a '90s-style portrait of Harper's beloved hamster atop a sequin backdrop.
Hudspeth said the tennis tournament captures Harper's spirit for helping sick children.
"Harper was always about other people," Hudspeth said. "The focus was never on her, despite all the attention she received. She was very good about deflecting that out to help other people."
Harper's family and supporters hope to raise $60,000 from this year's tournament – enough to pay for the researcher.
The three-day event includes a dinner, auction, live music and major corporate sponsors.
Jamie Drolet likens the opportunity to planning a wedding. He visits his oldest daughter's grave to spend his lunch break with her once a week. There, he remembers the reason behind all the preparations.
"That's why we do what we do," Jamie said. "We do it for Harper."
What: Inaugural Hugs for Harper Tennis Championship
When: Sept. 14-16
Where: Kiawah Island Resort
Why: To raise money to support pediatric soft-tissue research at MUSC
How much: $81.13 for first event; $13 for second event; $13 for additional events per player
Other events: Tournament dinner with live entertainment Sept. 15, $75 for non-playing attendees
To register or to donate: Visit www.hugsforharper.org