“I know what I want to do with the money,” 10-year-old Chloe Fruth told her mom, Staci.
They were in the pickup truck, on the way to a barrel racing competition. The money she was referring to was a gift from a family that had held a fundraiser a few years earlier to help cover Chloe’s cancer treatment. When the Fruths received word of the gift, they wanted it to go to a child whose family didn’t have the means to pay for medical care. But the funds had already been designated to Chloe. So Staci and husband Pat tucked the money away, promising Chloe she could decide what to do with it when she was a little older.
Chloe was first diagnosed with leukemia at age 4. At the time, a prize from her favorite nurse at Children’s Hospital of Minnesota, Lori Ellingson, would have a lasting impact. Nurse Lori promised Chloe a trophy when she completed an extraordinarily painful part of her treatment plan. She’d seen lots of kids battle the horrific disease but was struck by Chloe’s determination and sense of humor through it all. And her love of horses. There was lots of talk of horses during Chloe’s two and a half years of intense chemotherapy and hospital stays. Chloe had received her first horse at age 3—the year before she was diagnosed with cancer. She won her first barrel race at age 5—even while going through treatment.
The trophy from Nurse Lori—a seemingly small token of support—gave a little girl something to look forward to. It gave her hope.
When she was 7, cancer returned in Chloe’s central nervous system (her spine and brain). Her treatment this time was a bone marrow transplant at the University of Minnesota. That was when the Winkelman family in St. Cloud, Minnesota held a fundraising barrel race in Chloe’s honor, raising the money for treatment.
Chloe bravely endured the intensive therapy and went on to become the world barrel racing champion at age 10. Her special gift was connecting with horses. She was on her way to compete when the idea for Chloe’s Courage Fund emerged. “I want to give kids going through chemo courage trophies, like the one Lori gave me,” Chloe told her mom in the truck that day. Staci wholeheartedly agreed. They took the money in Chloe’s gifted savings account and purchased trophies to present to kids battling cancer at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
Chloe’s desire to give back continued to grow.
She blossomed into a compassionate young woman who, when she wasn’t spending time with her beloved horses, raised funds and awareness for childhood cancer. She excelled in school, planned on pursuing a medical career, and earned a 4.22 grade point average. And then, when she was a high school sophomore, the cancer came back in the form of a brain tumor. Chloe bounced back quickly from brain surgery and endured several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation over the next six weeks. But this time the treatment didn’t work. When the doctor told Chloe that 999 out of a thousand people with her same diagnosis lose their battle, she quickly replied, “I can be the one!”
While the Fruths remained optimistic, it soon became apparent Chloe was dying. They decided to spend every last moment enjoying life together. They planned a trip for the entire family—Chloe, brother Bridger, mom and dad—something that was rare. Chloe and Staci usually did most of the traveling just the two of them, heading to Texas often for barrel racing competitions. But in the Bahamas, Chloe spent carefree time with her whole family—enjoying water slides and swimming with dolphins and sea lions.
When they returned home, Chloe had one dying wish for her family: Continue awarding trophies to kids fighting cancer.
In 2012, at age 16, Chloe passed away peacefully with loved ones by her side. Soon after, Staci and Pat officially launched Chloe’s Courage Fund. With the support of a devoted board of directors and newly appointed executive director, Chloe’s Courage Fund continues to carry on their beloved daughter’s vision to make the lives of kids battling life-threatening illness—and their families—a little better.