Emily Whitehead Foundation keeps helping save lives
PHILIPSBURG — The Emily Whitehead Foundation continues to grow year by year, and the guest speaker at this year’s Tee Off for T-Cells event at the Philipsburg Elks Lodge & Country Club Friday was evidence of the lives it is saving.
The first life it saved was Emily’s, who made national news when she became cancer-free after being basically sent home to die as a small child. Emily Whitehead is now a healthy 13-year-old eighth grader, excited and ready to enjoy her summer.
Nicole Gularte, originally from San Francisco, now residing in Philadelphia, was on hand Friday to tell her story about how the Foundation saved her life and continues to provide her the support she needs as a cancer survivor.
“I’m a seven-time cancer survivor with leukemia, something Emily had,” Gularte said. “In 2014, I heard about the type of therapy Emily received. I flew to the University of Penn after being treated at Stanford, and they collected my cells. They told me about Emily Whitehead, and when I saw and learned about her story, I was inspired to go forward with that treatment.
“I turned down two bone marrow transplants and allowed my cancer to relapse so I could qualify for the treatment Emily had. It was very risky, and I had no support beside one doctor. I was on hospice with three to five weeks to live, planning my own funeral so I could be buried next to my father.
“I reached out to Tom and Kari (Whitehead), and Tom told me he had this feeling I was going to get my cells. It comforted me and made me want to fight. They got me into a trial, and he really advocated for me. I got into the trial, he got me a flight and he sent people in to support me.”
The treatment did wonders for Gularte, who was able to put her seeing-eye dog into early retirement after the trial.
“When I was on hospice I had cancer in both my eyes and spine,” Gularte said. “It was in my blood and bone marrow. It was everywhere. It had been a six-year battle with six relapses. I went into the trial, and 28 days later, I had no cancer anywhere.
“I regained my vision I had lost. Not only did I regain my vision, I was completely colorblind, and now I have regained the ability to see color.”
Gularte is 35, and Tom Whitehead said spreading the treatment to adults is an important step going forward.
“In the last couple months, the FDA passed the exact same treatment that Emily got for adults,” Tom Whitehead said. “Now adults are benefiting, and they are having a good success rate.”
The Whiteheads have traveled to Europe in the past year in an attempt to spread the treatment worldwide.
“Emily’s treatment is starting to get passed by other countries,” Tom Whitehead said. “Their healthcare is starting to pay for it. Europe’s FDA-type board just approved her treatment as well. It’s just a matter of time until all the kids in Europe can get it and have it covered.”
Gularte shares the Whiteheads’ dream of spreading the treatment to as many people as possible and was thrilled to be a part of Friday’s event.
“It feels good to be here, because my passion is to help others,” Gularte said. “I want them to have access to similar treatment. It is my purpose in life. Nothing feels better than being a part of this and them allowing me to help and pay it forward.”