Kimberly Michelle Hill was only three years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia in 1969. At the time, doctors told her family she wouldn’t live to adulthood. But after spending the next three-and-a-half years undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, young Kim defied the odds and survived.
Hill’s father, Fred, who was a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, was so touched by the emotional and financial support he received from his teammates and their families that he decided to dedicate his life to helping other families battle pediatric cancers. With aid from his neighbor, Stan Lane, Fred formed a nonprofit organization called Eagles Fly for Leukemia.
Over the next 30 years, Eagles Fly for Leukemia donated more than $6 million to pediatric cancer and leukemia research. Through its Family Support Fund, the foundation has provided financial assistance to struggling families to alleviate the non-medical expenses related to caring for children with cancer. Each year, the foundation also awards three $1,500 Kim Hill Scholarships to survivors of childhood cancer.
Dr. Audrey Evans of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia saw a need for short-term lodging near the hospital for families of cancer patients, and suggested that Hill allocate some funds for just such a purpose. In 1974, local McDonald’s restaurants decided to help the cause by featuring Eagles players on Shamrock Shakes and donating a portion of the proceeds to the housing fund. When a McDonald’s official offered all the shake proceeds if the house was named after its clown mascot, Ronald McDonald, the charity agreed.
That first Ronald McDonald House became the model for an international network of temporary housing for families of sick children.
Today, Ronald McDonald House Charities operates 302 houses in over 30 countries.
“[Kim] didn’t like being sick, but in a way she was glad she was, because of the good things that happened because of it,” Fred Hill said.
As a child, Kim Hill ran cross-country, sang in the choir and rode horses with her two sisters. She bore a son and studied cosmetology after high school, but eventually worked as a manager at one of her father’s McDonald’s restaurants. When she was well enough, Hill also served as a spokeswoman for Ronald McDonald House Charities, appearing at openings, benefits and other promotional events.
When doctors discovered Hill had developed brain tumors in 1991, she and her family even lived in a Ronald McDonald House while she underwent the first of five brain operations. The tumors continued to grow, however, and eventually she lost her mobility, sight and ability to speak. The last 13 years of her life were spent living in a nursing home.
Hill died on March 5 of brain cancer. She was 44.