Charities hurt by pandemic
PHILIPSBURG — One of the more ironic twists of the precautions taken to keep people safe from the coronavirus pandemic has been the struggle of many local non-profit companies and charities designed to help save lives.
The Emily Whitehead Foundation held its sixth annual Tee Off for T-Cells event at the Philipsburg Elks Country Club Friday, but less than a month ago, organizers weren’t even certain the event could take place.
“We were undecided up until about two or three weeks ago,” Emily Whitehead Foundation co-founder Tom Whitehead, the father of Emily, said. “We weren’t sure if we could do it, and our main goal was to make sure everyone was going to be safe first. Emily is really high risk. If she would get it, she would be in a lot of trouble. I reached out to Joe Bower of CNB Bank and asked him his thoughts. He thought we needed to do something normal and we should hold it and keep everyone outside and safe, just something to build morale.”
Former NFL long snapper and Philipsburg-Osceola graduate Jon Condo, who has helped with the event the previous five years and brought celebrities to help raise more money for the cause, was still the host, but did so virtually from California.
“It’s tough, because I really look forward to it every year,” Condo said. “I bring my family in for the event and see everyone in the area. It gives them a chance to experience the foundation and the good things that we have been doing here. It was a tough decision, but the whole event was kind of up in the air during the planning period that started in March, but getting on a plane and traveling right now with my mom being older and having three young kids, I couldn’t. The foundation is in great hands, and we’ll do whatever we can to make this a successful year for us.”
Condo was appreciative of the Elks for being patient with the Foundation and still allowing the event to happen with late notice.
“We’re fortunate that the Philipsburg Elks is allowing us to have this tournament, and even if we can raise just a little bit of money, it’s going to be a success,” Condo said. “I think everyone in the area is anxious to do something, and we should have a good crowd based off people just wanting to get out and get some fresh air and do something good for a good cause.”
The crowd was down somewhat without Condo and likely due to safety concerns for older players. Whitehead said about 80 golfers registered and the event usually has more than 100 participants.
Still, holding the event was vital for the Foundation.
“This is going to be one of the only fundraisers we can hold this year,” Whitehead said. “Our Foundation has really been struggling because of the pandemic. We’re getting more messages than ever from patients that need help, and we’re still helping them, but we’re limited. We didn’t want to have to shut the Foundation down because of no funding, but it’s a scary time right now.”
CNB Bank’s sponsorship of the event played a major role in it going forward.
“Having CNB Bank come in as the sponsor made all the difference,” Whitehead said. “Without them, we may have just been holding it and breaking even. Their generous donation of $5,000 gives us a fun day and be able to go back and help families.”
Emily Whitehead could not attend Friday’s event due to concerns about her vulnerability to COVID-19, and she may have to stay at home even if students return to classrooms this fall.
“She’s been taking online classes, and we’ll probably head that way in the fall until we see it’s safe that she can go back into the school setting,” Whitehead said. “She just finished her freshman year. She’s 5-foot-10, and she exercises every day. She has me riding bicycles for at least 5 miles a day now with her, and she’s been in the best health she’s been in since she got sick.”
Interestingly Emily Whitehead, whose life was saved when she was just 7 years old through experimental CAR-T cell therapy that has saved many lives since, also was the first cancer patient to be given tocilizumab, a drug now being used to help seriously ill COVID-19 patients regain their ability to breathe.
“It had never been used on a cancer patient at the time, and it got her breathing again,” Whitehead said. “Now, there’s a whole set of patients that get on a ventilator that get this treatment and that it’s helping. It’s actually saved some people and gotten them breathing again.”
The Whiteheads have a book about Emily’s journey and the Foundation coming out in October. It will be on bookshelves Oct. 6, but it can be pre-ordered now.
“We’re hoping it can be a small part in the divide that’s happening and get people talking and working together,” Whitehead said. “When Emily was sick, everyone pitched in and everyone helped.”