Researcher Spotlight: Kids Kicking Cancer

Researcher Spotlight
February 12, 2021
By Ashley Avarino

In this blog post, the spotlight is on Kids Kicking Cancer. We had the pleasure of chatting with Amanda Bluth, KKC’s Research and Grants Coordinator, to learn all about how KKC’s research is impacting children all around the world.

Phonic: What is Kids Kicking Cancer?

Amanda: Kids Kicking Cancer is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization providing a unique, martial arts-based approach to palliative care for children suffering from cancer, sickle cell, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. 

Our work is concentrated around three areas:

  1. Pain and stress management for very sick children  
  2. Creating resilience and support for otherwise healthy children 
  3. Inspiring healing and well-being in adults (ex: ARI)

Our non-contact, evidence-based techniques are delivered in person and virtually throughout hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient centers, home visits and schools across the United States and globally. Our goal with your help is to aggressively grow this program to affect one million children.

Phonic: When and why was Kids Kicking Cancer founded?

Amanda: Kids Kicking Cancer was created in 1999 by Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg (aka Rabbi G.), a black belt Rabbi and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics. Rabbi G. lost his first child to leukemia at the age of two and brings a wealth of personal experience and sensitivity to dealing with children and families facing life-threatening illness.

The organization has since evolved to become the Heroes Circle, an evidence-based global healing and wellness initiative inspired by the children of Kids Kicking Cancer. 

Phonic: What’s a typical program like at Kids Kicking Cancer? 

Amanda: Without trying to sound too cliché, I would say Kids Kicking Cancer doesn’t have a “typical” program. We have programs that deal with different populations that have different needs, but the core of our programming lies in creating something that will lower the pain of others through self-regulation and empowerment.

Phonic: What type of research do you do at Kids Kicking Cancer?

Amanda: Most of our research centers around evaluating whether our novel martial arts-based programs are effective for reducing pain and stress. We have several programs, including our founding program for children with cancer, but we have recently expanded to include other groups under our Heroes Circle umbrella, including children with sickle cell or other chronic illnesses, school children, and adults with substance use disorders. Our research incorporates a variety of tools, including surveys and questionnaires, qualitative interviews, biological (e.g., stress hormone levels), and psychophysiological measures (e.g., EEG/ERP, SCR, MRI/fMRI, HRV). Some of these findings have already been published in quality peer-reviewed scientific journals. Check them out here, here, and here.

Phonic: How do you partner with academia to accomplish these goals?  

Amanda: We partner with researchers at Wayne State University (WSU) and other institutions to meet our research objectives. For example, our Global Medical Director, Dr. Martin Bluth, is a professor of pathology at WSU School of Medicine (Detroit, Michigan) and Chief of Transfusion Medicine at Maimonides Medical Center (Brooklyn, NY). Dr. Hilary Marusak has also directed several of our studies in children and adolescents. She is a neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychiatry in the WSU School of Medicine. Dr. Mark Greenwald is an expert in the neuroscience of substance use disorders and led our research study in patients with opioid use disorder.  

Phonic: Why did you choose to use Phonic in your research? 

Amanda: Jessie Davis, a member of our Innovation team, discovered Phonic while looking for a school program survey tool that allowed respondents to record their responses instead of typing. When Jessie saw Phonic’s recording feature, she was so impressed she presented it to the Kids Kicking Cancer team. At this point our Adolescent Young Adult (AYA) program team was also looking for a survey tool to use and was equally impressed by Phonic’s abilities. This led to both programs deciding to use Phonic.

Phonic’s use of text, audio, and video mediums allows us to have in-depth insight into how our programs are being utilized. We were particularly impressed with the ability to use recordings, which Phonic transcribes and can be used to classify affect and emotion. Phonic is also being used to determine program barriers which help inform us how to pivot as we develop and scale our programs. These innovative tools truly set it apart from other candidates, as it allows for the collection of more robust data. 


Phonic: How do you use Phonic in your research?

Amanda: Phonic is currently being used for our AYA program and our Heroes Circle in-school curriculum. Our AYA program targets teens and young adults that want more targeted programming for their journey into adulthood (life skills, mentoring, self-esteem, etc.). We have created several types of Phonic surveys to measure program satisfaction, changes in physical, psychological/emotional, academic, and social functioning throughout the program, and Kids Kicking Cancer’s relevance in participants’ lives.

In partnership with Oak Park Michigan School District, our Heroes Circle in-school curriculum focuses on teaching students the techniques to help them self-regulate as they encounter a range of stressors. At the same time, they increase personal empathy as they are encouraged to use their techniques to teach their family, friends and community. The program has an extensive curriculum that was built to address the effects of stressful situations, thereby improving a child’s ability to self-regulate and learn. Using a “surround-sound” approach, this program is integrated into the classroom and extended to teachers, psychosocial staff, and other high-touchpoint staff. We use Phonic for our “Breath Brake Coach” (psychosocial staff with advanced training in the school program curriculum) surveys, consisting of a monthly survey and end of year evaluation; additionally, Phonic was used for school program surveys for non-Breath Brake psychosocial staff. 

Phonic: What’s the best part of working with kids through Kids Kicking Cancer? 

Amanda: I get so inspired by the kids in our programs! At Kids Kicking Cancer, we teach our kids that they are powerful martial artists and can teach the world. I truly feel their power and wisdom! As kids go through our programming, they are able to transform from a state of fear and pain to one of control, determination, and empowerment. I think there is a lot we can learn from each and every one of them – whether it’s kindness, friendship, courage, or confidence. Our kids are self-regulated, aware, and motivated to do good in the world and that is why they have the power to teach the world.

Thousands of researchers use Phonic to answer interesting research questions. One way that we support our researchers is by highlighting incredible work being done in our Researcher Spotlight. Want to be featured in our next Researcher Spotlight? Let us know how you use Phonic in your research, here!

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