6-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Fights to Save Penguins

Young Aghelos has already helped raise more than $3,000 to save penguins.

Monday, Apr 25, 2011  |  Updated 6:35 PM EDT
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Julie Larsen Maher

Aghelos Kouvaras beat cancer. Now he wants to save endangered penguins.

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After battling an aggressive form of cancer for the last eight months, 6-year-old Aghelos Kouvaras has beaten the odds. And now he wants to apply his survivor skills to another mission: saving endangered penguins.

Kouvaras, a first grader at South Salem Elementary in Port Washington on Long Island, spent nearly a year in and out of hospitals receiving chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It was during his own battle that he decided he wanted to help the penguins win theirs.

In September, Kouvaras was diagnosed with a tumor in his abdomen. Reading books about penguins helped pass the time during his hospital stays, and he learned about the threats facing the species.

Kouvaras became passionate about the penguin plight and decided he wanted to help, according to his family and Bronx Zoo officials who are giving him the opportunity to do just that.

"In the hospital, I asked Aggie if he had a wish; if there was anything he wanted," said the boy's mother, Elizabeth Kouvaras. "He didn’t want an X-box or a Playstation. He said he wanted to save penguins. 'What are we going to do without animals?' he asked. If they die, we will all die."

The sentiment inspired the boy's family, teachers and community to help him get his wish. They will raise money for penguin conservation by joining the Wildlife Conservation Society’s third annual Run for the Wild on Saturday. The run is dedicated to helping save penguins.

"Aghelos is an encouragement to everyone at WCS," said John Calvelli, WCS executive vice president of public affairs. "His work to raise money to save penguins while fighting his own battle is inspirational. He has become a role model for an entire community."

Young Aghelos completed his chemotherapy treatments just weeks before the Run for the Wild this weekend, which will allow him to join the nearly 80 members of "Team Aghelos" in the 5K Run for the Wild and family fun run/walk at the Bronx Zoo on Saturday.

The child and his supporters have already raised more than $3,000 for the Run for the Wild and are working to raise more before race day, zoo officials said. Saturday's race begins at 8:30 a.m. at the zoo and the family fun run/walk begins at 8:45 a.m.

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