by MICHELLE TREMBLAY | photos by Zeena Gregg Photography

Joey’s Wings

In March 2013, Kathy Liu and her husband received devastating news: their son, Joey, a fifth grader, was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer. The family immediately started looking for the best treatment options for Joey and traveled all over the country doing so. Sadly, after about a year and a half, Joey lost his battle with cancer and passed away on November 26, 2014 at the age of 10. Dealing with immense heartbreak, Kathy decided to turn the family’s tragedy into something positive, creating a nonprofit organization in memory of Joey called Joey’s Wings.

Faces_liu2“Our mission is to fund research that focuses on kidney cancers affecting children and young adults, raise awareness, and provide support to families affected by childhood cancer,” explained Kathy. “One hundred percent of all donations made are used towards research and treatment options, patient care, and advocacy for developing less toxic therapies to treat kidney cancer among children and young adults.”

Joey’s Wings, which is supported by a board of directors operating entirely on a volunteer basis, recently installed 2,000 origami cranes at The New Children’s Museum in San Diego, a project inspired by Joey and his love for origami. “Each crane honors one of the approximately 2,000 children in the United States who pass away from cancer every year,” stated Kathy. “The crane represents a prayer and a wish for recovery, hence a powerful message of joy during a very difficult time.”

Name: Kathy Liu
Community: Pacific Highlands Ranch
Profession: Elementary school teacher
Family: A family of five – me; husband; David, who is 6; and Joey who passed away at the age of 10 in 2014. Addie is our family dog.
Hobbies & Interests: Reading, swimming, hiking
Favorite Local Spot: Torrey Pines State Park

Name of Organization: Joey’s Wings Foundation
Mission: To fund research that focuses on kidney cancers affecting children and young adults, raise awareness, and provide support to families affected by childhood cancer.
Year Founded: 2014

The organization also sells origami crane jewelry, strings, and earrings to fundraise for childhood cancer research. “The response from the community has been amazing,” shared Kathy. “We’ve seen so much praise on social media. People took pictures of cranes and posted, which helps promote the awareness.” Joey’s Wings is even funding 100 tickets to this year’s Global Winter Wonderland at SDCCU Stadium for local families who are affected by childhood cancer.

In addition to her work with Joey’s Wings, Kathy is also spearheading a new group called the San Diego Childhood Cancer Coalition, a group of San Diego-based nonprofits who, as individual organizations, assist children and families affected by cancer. “Together as a coalition, we are building a unified voice to share the needs of kids fighting cancer with San Diego County,” explained Kathy.


Through this journey, Kathy has learned a lot, most specifically how to be her child’s advocate, how to connect with researchers and doctors, and how to best promote awareness of childhood cancer. “The most challenging aspect is fundraising,” noted Kathy. “Research on childhood cancer only gets four percent of federal funding.”

But despite its challenges, Kathy has high hopes for the future of Joey’s Wings. “Joey’s Wings continues to work hard toward a cure,” explained Kathy. “We will host more events reaching out to more local families affected by pediatric cancer. (We) will also make more advocacy efforts, lobbying the government toward more research funding for childhood cancer.” She added, “Joey is forever my dear son and he is the mountain that moves me forward to help the children and families who deal with this horrible disease.”