BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Nearly 5,000 people gathered at the Mall of America Friday to honor the legacy of a Minnesota teen.

And the annual KS95 “Clouds” Choir for a Cause celebration reached all the way to a Minneapolis hospital, where children being treated for cancer could join in the MOA experience through video.

“They will be able to actually participate in the ‘Clouds’ event… To be part of something bigger. To be able to join live in an experience is incredibly meaningful,” said Dr. Brenda Weigel, Chair of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota.

Weigel helped treat Zach Sobiech, the Lakeland teenager who died in 2013 from osteosarcoma. Before his death, Sobiech reached millions of people around the world with his song, “Clouds.” And every year at the Mall of America, thousands have gathered to sing his song, and raise awareness and money to battle cancer.

PATIENTS JOIN IN CELEBRATION

But this year’s celebration came with a twist, in the form of a roving “robot” that helped to transmit the experience to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Staff showed the video in the hospital’s Wilf Auditorium.

“He’s not here but his name and legacy are carrying on,” said Lyndsey Leehan, whose own 17-month-old son, Declan, was diagnosed with a brain tumor just last month.

“He’s a lover at heart. He’s a gentle spirit,” Leehan said about her son – traits others have said also describe Sobiech.

LASTING LEGACY

Since his death in May 2013, the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund has raised about $1 million for research into the rare cancer. Specialists say the research has been focused on understanding the cancer better so they can develop new therapies.

“It is a very, very difficult cancer to pin down,” Weigel said, adding that they’re researching possible predictors of the cancer, what makes it grow and what makes it more aggressive in some people.

That research – which also includes clinical trials on dogs with osteosarcoma – has resulted in new developments, including a trait in a cell that is “overexpressed” in osteosarcoma cells. The research team at the U of M plan to “target” that trait with a new trial that starts in 2017.

“We can start to learn and understand what its role may be in truly causing osteosarcoma,” Weigel said.

And that – along with his gift of song and message of hope – remains the lasting legacy of the Lakeland teenager.

“It reminds me that Zach’s spirit lives on, and he’s here with us. And he is part of what we do. And he is the reason we do it. He and all the other people like Zach who struggle with osteosarcoma. We have a long way to go,” Weigel said.