Tee Off for T-Cells benefit tournament tops $250,000

Emily Whitehead (second from left) talks with friends while eating lunch at the Philipsburg Elks Lodge & Country Club on Friday. (Mirror photo by Michael Boytim)

PHILIPSBURG — Philipsburg native Jon Condo hosted the fifth annual Tee Off for T-Cells to benefit the Emily Whitehead Foundation Friday at the Philipsburg Elks Lodge & Country Club.

Condo, along with fellow athletes Matt McGloin, a former Penn State and NFL quarterback, and Kerry McCoy, a Nittany Lion and Olympic wrestler, helped make the event a huge success.

“This is our fifth year, and we’re going to surpass $250,000 raised today, just from this event,” said Tom Whitehead, Emily’s father. “It’s amazing for us to have the support of the Condo family. We lost a very important person to us in Jon Condo’s dad, Dick, who passed away. We have a memorial sign up for him. He was very integral in keeping this growing.”

The Condo family has always hosted the event, which is inspired by Emily Whitehead. Whitehead made national headlines seven years ago when she became the first child to receive CAR T-Cell therapy for cancer treatment. The Whitehead family went from preparing for the final days of Emily’s life to having a healthy, normal child.

“It’s a great event for a great cause,” McCoy said. “Obviously, Emily’s story is so amazing. The people involved with it are great. It’s nice to spend some time with the people supporting this on the course, and it’s great cause.”

In the seven years since her treatment, Whitehead has never had to spend a single night in the hospital.

“We’re helping kids be able to get out of hospital beds and go back to their families,” Condo said. “It’s also a community organization. To give back to the community here is very important to me. The support that we’ve had here has been tremendous, especially the local sponsors and everyone opening their wallets to help fight cancer.”

Emily Whitehead has attended all five tournaments and spent the majority of Friday riding around in a golf cart and joking with classmates while having her lunch, just like any normal teenager.

“Emily is doing fantastic,” Tom Whitehead said. “She’s now 14, getting straight A’s in class, and she’s heading to high school at Philipsburg-Osceola this coming year. If you didn’t know what she went through, you couldn’t tell. She’s just a normal kid, and we’re blessed every day to still have her and be her parents.”

When she’s not doing everyday activities, Emily serves as an advocate of her treatment across the world.

The Whiteheads recently visited Stockholm, Sweden, and Oslo, Norway.

“The plant in Oslo made the little miniature metal beads that were used in Emily’s treatment that trained her cells to recognize and fight her cancer,” Tom Whitehead said. “We got to meet the people who made the beads, and it was a very neat experience for her. We also met the first patient who ever had her treatment in Norway, and we did media there to raise more awareness.”

The treatment Emily received was also passed in Japan and Australia in the past year, but it is still not available worldwide.

“We want to make sure in these other places that the health care system pays for the treatment,” Tom Whitehead said. “I got a message from a father in Lima, Peru. His daughter can’t get treated there, so they are traveling to Barcelona, Spain, to get treated. They have to move there for a year, 6,000 miles away. We feel very fortunate that all we had to do was drive to Philadelphia, and we’re trying to help others get into a similar situation.”

Tom Whitehead said that even though the treatment is spreading across the world, he still hears from people interested in it locally.

“We continue to get messages from patients weekly who need help,” Tom Whitehead said. “Just in the last week, we heard from a 23-year-old young man from Altoona who was diagnosed with lymphoma, and if standard treatment doesn’t work for him, he could end up getting into the CAR T-Cell treatment that Emily had. It’s nice to know it’s available for patients in this area that need it.”

To help spread Emily Whitehead’s story, the family is in the final stages of working on a feature film with Oscar-winning director Ross Kauffman that they hope to premier at the Sundance Film Festival next year. A book about her story is also in the works.

“We want all families to have the same outcome we did if they have a child fighting cancer,” Tom Whitehead said.

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