Young cancer survivor and family give back to Children's Hospital

Tuesday, January 5, 2016
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A Philadelphia hospital received a big thank you from a 10-year-old girl and her family.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A Philadelphia hospital received a big thank you Tuesday from a 10-year-old girl and her family.

She has come back from the brink thanks to the hospital's breakthrough cancer treatment.

You may remember Emily Whitehead.

At the age of 7, Emily was the first child in the world to undergo an experimental treatment at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia using a pioneering immunotherapy to treat an aggressive form of leukemia.

Today, she has been cancer-free for three-and-a-half years.

And she's now giving back to help others.

10-year-old Emily Whitehead and her family presented a huge donation to the Children's Hospital.

Today, Emily lives the typical fifth-grade life.

"I like to have sleepovers and play with my toys at my house," she says.

But in early 2012, Emily was battling an aggressive form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, ALL.

Her leukemia had relapsed twice and chemotherapy stopped working.

In a last-ditch effort to save Emily's life, doctors at Children's Hospital made her the first pediatric patient to undergo an experimental treatment.

Using her own T cells, doctors manipulated Emily's own immune cells to attack her specific cancer cells.

Initially she got very sick.

"She was on a ventilator for 14 days and she woke up and came back to us on her 7th birthday," her father Tom Whitehead recalls.

Her dad says it was a miracle, and when doctors confirmed the treatment worked, the family decided to start the Emily Whitehead Foundation.

"To try to make a difference so all kids can go home with their parents like we had Emily come home with us, healthy and happy," says Whitehead.

Mom Kari adds, "We originally had a goal of $50,000 but the support of the community and across the state has really been amazing."

Doctor Stephan Grupp says since Emily was treated, locally more than 80 other kids and 200 adults have received the therapy.

"We have just reported that in the initial kids that we treated, 93-percent have gone into remission with really tough leukemias," says Dr. Grupp.

Emily's hope for the donation is simple.

"That other kids can go home healthy," she told us quietly.

Dr. Grupp says the $100,000 will go directly into a new clinical trial, testing the treatment on other types of leukemia or lymphoma.

He says they're not sure yet if it will work to treat other cancers, but researchers are working on that.

More on the Emily Whitehead Foundation here.