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Wranglers happily endure close shave

More than a decade after Kyra McMullan died of brain cancer at 2½ years old, Lynn McMullan still couldn’t say her daughter’s name.

It wasn’t until after she and her husband, Brian McMullan — who own McMullan’s Irish Pub in Las Vegas — hosted their inaugural St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser to fight childhood cancer in honor of Kyra that she could.

“A few months after it, we got out the photographs. It was a huge step. Huge,” Brian McMullan said. “We can talk about it now. So when people ask why do we do it, it’s helped us.

“It’s helped me a lot, it’s helped my wife a lot, and we hope it’s helped a lot of other people, too.”

McMullan’s Irish Pub — a popular hangout for Wranglers players and fans located on West Tropicana Avenue, across from The Orleans, where the ECHL team plays — has raised $1.85 million dollars for St. Baldrick’s over the past seven years.

The Wranglers also have contributed to the cause each year. Coach Ryan Mougenel and nine players joined other team employees Sunday in having their heads shaved on the ice after a 6-2 win over San Francisco, to stand in solidarity with kids fighting cancer and to raise money to find cures.

Several fans had their heads shaved during the game. The players who participated were Andrew Sarauer, Sean Wiles, Robbie Smith, Adam Hughesman, Judd Blackwater, Mike Madill, Mitch O’Keefe, Matt Campanale and Scott Pitt.

Mougenel, who had his head shaved for St. Baldrick’s for the sixth straight year, said some “pretty boys” on the team would never shave their heads, but he wasn’t concerned about his appearance.

“I’ve got a gorgeous face, so I can pull it off. The guys on the team, not so much,” he said, laughing. “Hopefully, it grows back this time. I’m getting up there (in age).”

All kidding aside, Mougenel had his head shaved this year in remembrance of Ryan Christian, an 11-year-old girl who died Jan. 24 of a rare form of childhood cancer — defined as cancers that strike people ages 20 and younger.

Christian was the daughter of Mougenel’s former teammate, Jeff Christian, who played part of one season for the now-defunct Las Vegas Thunder and also saw action in the NHL.

“For me, it’s really tough to talk about and for the majority of people it’s a really hard thing to talk about,” Mougenel said. “If anything, it opens the lines of communication.”

McMullan’s was packed with an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd from morning to night Saturday, when a record 466 people had their heads shaved.

“It’s a fun day,” Brian McMullan said. “It’s a meaningful day, but it’s a fun day.”

The event, one of a plethora to take place around the city and state, raised more than $250,000 for St. Baldrick’s, a volunteer-driven charity that funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government.

Started on a whim by three businessman at an Irish pub in New York City on St. Patrick’s Day 2000, the foundation has raised more than $103 million since 2005.

Brian McMullan, originally from South Africa, learned of St. Baldrick’s through an email from his daughter’s nurse in Denver, where his family lived for five years before moving to Las Vegas in 1997.

“I realized if I did it, I’m going to have to shave my head, so I thought about it, because I’m an egotistical guy and I’ve got all these bumps,” he said. “I knew if I went to see my wife, she’d say we’re doing it.”

Sure enough, when he told his wife about it, she immediately committed to the cause, as did their then-13-year-old son Ross, now a 21-year-old freshman hockey player at NCAA Division I St. Lawrence University. Their then-8-year-old daughter, Branagh, said nothing at the time, but eventually decided to get her head shaved as well.

“A couple weeks later, she cornered my wife in the bedroom and said, ‘Mom, would Kyra do it for me?’ ” Brian said. “So we all did it that year.”

McMullan was pleasantly surprised when the inaugural event attracted 150 people, raised $152,000 and resulted in compliments on his new look.

“I did it and I walked around and they said, ‘Brian, you look younger!’ ” he said. “And then I said, ‘I’m doing it again!’ ”

McMullan had his head shaved for the seventh straight year Saturday, and Lynn also had her head shaved as part of a team called Girls Gone Bald.

Brian McMullan said he likes how his wife looks without hair, but not all husbands feel that way. A few years ago, one man was none too pleased when his wife got caught up in the spirit of St. Baldrick’s and had her head shaved.

“This beautiful woman came down the ramp and she had this little sign that said, “If I raise $1,500, I’m going to shave my head,’ ” McMullan said. “So she got the money and she went to shave. She was just taken up in the moment. Her husband was pissed.”

More children are lost to cancer in the U.S. than any other disease. Before they turn 20, about one in 300 boys and one in 333 girls will have cancer.

Charities such as St. Baldrick’s are making a difference. For example, in the 1950s, almost all kids diagnosed with cancer died, but because of research, today about 85 percent of kids with the most common type of cancer will live.

While a cure still hasn’t been found for the type of brain cancer that killed Kyra McMullan in 1996, survival rates have improved for many other types of childhood cancer.

“The research is getting there,” Brian McMullan said. “It’s improved because of things like St. Baldrick’s.”

The foundation helps offset the relatively small amount of funding the government provides for childhood cancer research in comparison to adult cancer research, which receives 96 percent of the pie.

“The irony of the whole thing is the average age a kid gets cancer is 6 years old, and the average age an adult gets it is 67,” said Brian McMullan, who’s 66. “I’ll be 67 this year and I’ve had a great life. I don’t want to die, but if it was a choice between my daughter getting it and me, there’s no choice.”

McMullan became choked up and wiped away tears as he talked about Kyra, whom he called “the bravest person that I have ever had the privilege of knowing.”

“There’s always going to be the gap,” he said of losing her. “(St. Baldrick’s) can’t bring my daughter back, but we can help other people who are inevitably going to be in the same position.”

To make a donation or participate in a future event, go to StBaldricks.org or call 888-899-2253.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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