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Children's cancer doc's campaign receives surprise support from Nordstrom

Inspired by Nordstrom, this doctor has pledged to send a rock to anyone who donates $85 to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Editor's Note: After hearing about this campaign, Nordstrom department stores offered to match the first $50,000 raised by Rocks for a Reason. According to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, as of December 19, the hospital has received more than 460 gifts from 39 states and Puerto Rico totaling more than $46,000. The gift from Nordstrom makes the total close to $100,000 in 10 days. Every $85 donation before December 31 will receive a rock with a personal note from Dr. David Margolis, who came up with the idea.

Said Dr. Margolis, "I have been blown away by the support we have received. And now this generous gift from Nordstrom. It’s heartwarming how many people are reaching out to help us help kids! We are going to need more rocks.”

Dr. David Margolis wants to make it clear that he and his family are big fans of Nordstrom. He told TODAY Parents that he, his wife Jody, and their two daughters, Rachel and Melissa, spend plenty of money at their local Nordstrom department store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

But when he saw that Nordstrom online shoppers were buying $85 rocks in leather pouches (they are now, in fact, sold out), Dr. Margolis, the head of the bone-marrow transplant program at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, couldn't believe it. "It reminded me of pet rocks," he said with a laugh.

In a meeting with other staff members at the hospital, he mentioned the expensive Nordstrom rocks, then mused, "Wouldn't it be great if people sent us $85 instead?"

With that, Rocks for a Reason was born. Dr. Margolis took to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin Facebook page, where he explained how he had heard about the rocks available at a "major retailer" and proclaimed he would personally send a rock "from the shores of Lake Michigan" to anyone who would donate $85 to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin Foundation instead.

"We take care of sick kids every day, and a donation of $85 can go a long way towards letting a kid be a kid or even helping a kid get better," he explained.

As of today, the video had been viewed over 280,000 times across the hospital's social-media accounts, and Rocks for a Reason had received 150 donations from 20 states totaling $16,000. Dr. Margolis credits the campaign's success with the timing.

"It's the holiday season, and people are often in the spirit of giving right now," he said. "There are many great causes throughout our communities and our country, and the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin is one of them. And hey, if you really want a rock, we can give you a rock!"

To begin fulfilling his promise, Dr. Margolis headed out to a family member's property along the shores of Lake Michigan this weekend to begin collecting rocks. "What I didn't anticipate was that in the winter, the water covers the rocks and freezes, so the rocks were all frozen together," he laughed. "It took a little effort to knock them loose. I didn't anticipate that, but you learn something new every day."

The hospital is now in talks with a local quarry to have rocks donated for the cause so that they don't have to continue to collect them from the shores of Lake Michigan. "Luckily, Mother Nature has enough rocks to cover us," said Dr. Margolis.

The Children's Hospital of Wisconsin admitted 25,617 infants, children and adolescents last year and saw 319,454 more in the hospital’s specialty outpatient clinics and urgent care sites, making it one of the nation's top pediatric medical facilities as well as one of its busiest. The money raised through Rocks for a Reason will go directly to the hospital's foundation, which pays for services not covered by insurance companies, such as research or child life and expressive therapies like music or art.

"Child life therapies allow [very sick] kids to be kids," said Dr. Margolis. "That is really important. I'm a cancer doctor, and a fair amount of cancer research relies on philanthropy as well."

Dr. Margolis has spent his entire medical career at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. He said one of the most fulfilling aspects of this campaign has been seeing comments of support on Facebook from families whose children they have treated, including some whose children passed away. "It's shown us how many lives we really touch, and how strong those relationships are," he said.

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"We’re all just human, and we’re all in this together," Dr. Margolis said. "I deal with a wide range of emotions being a cancer doctor, and I have learned that you’ve gotta try to have fun, be part of society, be engaged with your patients and community. That's what we tried to do with this."

While Dr. Margolis thanks everyone who has "taken the time to look, laugh, share, and donate" to Rocks for a Reason, he made a special donation to the cause himself. "I made my donation in honor of Nordstrom," he said.

This article was originally published December 12, 2016. It has been updated.