PHILIPSBURG — Each year, TIME Magazine unveils its TIME 100 Most Influential People of the Year, ranging from celebrities, scientists, politicians and others.
This year, Dr. Carl June of the University of Pennsylvania was named as one of the 100 people for his work in pioneering T-cell therapy.
And a Philipsburg girl who was the first to receive the therapy to beat childhood cancer was the one to discuss his award-winning work at the event held recently in New York City.
Six years ago, Emily Whitehead, 12, daughter of Tom and Kari Whitehead, was the first child in the world to receive the T-cell treatment by Dr. Stephan Grupp at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She was 6 years old at the time.
Tom said TIME contacted the family and asked if Emily could write the tribute to June.
“They said each person gets 150 words,” Tom said. “So I talked to Emily and I said, ‘They want you to share what Dr. June means to us and to you.’”
Some 10 minutes later, Tom said Emily wrote up the 149 words that were printed. Her tribute can be found on TIME’s website.
Tom said the magazine also requested Emily attend the TIME 100 Gala at the Jazz Lincoln Center in New York City.
“I said, ‘Well, she’s 12, so she won’t be coming alone, but if you’d like us to bring her, we’d be glad to come,’” Tom said.
So the family packed their bags and attended the gala. Tom said Dr. June actually couldn’t attend the event because he was already scheduled to be at a retreat in Hawaii. However, he was honored to not only be recognized, but to have Emily pen his tribute.
“He texted me and said it brought tears to his eyes because he did not know Emily was going to write the tribute,” Tom said.
“She was super excited that she got to meet Millie Bobby Brown and Shawn Mendes,” Tom said. “That was her goal for the night and — mission accomplished.”
Others attending the gala that Tom mentioned included Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Keegan-Michael Key, Gale King and Megyn Kelly.
“It was very surreal,” Tom said of all the notable people in attendance. “At one point, I was standing by Martha Stewart and I got to talk to Arianna Huffington ... Overall, it was just pretty darn amazing.”
The gala itself consisted of a red carpet arrival prior to the event. Dinner was then served and there were a few guest speakers. Mendes performed before dinner and Lopez performed at the after-party.
“Emily thrives at those events now, and it’s great to see where she’s come from six years ago,” Tom said. They also enjoy spreading awareness about T-cell therapy and the funding that’s needed in making it happen.
“It was a very inspiring night and we got to spread a lot of awareness while we were there,” Tom said. “A lot of people were interested in hearing more about Emily’s story.”
Because of T-cell therapy, Emily gets to continue her life story and she and her family have given back to many others. The Emily Whitehead Foundation was formed in 2015 and they recently made a donation of $250,000 to Dr. Grupp and CHOP. They also recently collaborated on a grant with the group Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) where both they and the foundation chipped in $125,000 each to present the Philip Sharp Award.
“That’s to pair a young researcher with a senior researcher from another center to help further pediatric immunotherapy,” Tom said, as the SU2C board decides who receives the award.
Other events to raise awareness also include this weekend at the Pittsburgh Marathon and the annual golf tournament at the Philipsburg Elks Lodge and Country Club on Friday, July 13.
“We’re just continuing to spread awareness,” Tom said. “Emily’s treatment is in 11 other countries. They’ve treated 258 patients right at CHOP in Philly. There’s more than 200 patients (treated) internationally ... Our goal is to make it available for kids anywhere in the world that need it to survive, so they can get the same outcome that we did ... We get messages all the time from other families fighting cancer that need help.”
Tom said they are extremely proud in being from this area and thanks those who have supported them. On May 10, the family will take an annual picture and celebrate Emily being cancer free for six years.
In an effort to continue with the foundation work, they will be opening a full-time office at 441 S. Centre St., Philipsburg.
“We’re proud that the headquarters for the Emily Whitehead Foundation will always be in Philipsburg,” Tom said. “Even in this area, there are so many people that need help with cancer. We try to do something every day to make a difference in someone beating their cancer.”