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October/November 2016

Medical Miracle Fueled by IBEW Generosity
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Long before Emily Whitehead became an international figure in the fight against leukemia, her mother and father assured her they would stay by her side.

Tom Whitehead said that was possible because of the generosity of IBEW members, who donated money, vacation days and prayers to get them through one of the worst ordeals a family can face.

"We were very fortunate," said Tom, a member of Johnstown, Pa., Local 459 and a lineman for Penelec of First Energy. "We saw other families that lost their jobs, who lost their houses, who had to go completely into the welfare system when their children are going through treatment."

Delegates to the 39th International Convention in September saw a video about the family produced by the IBEW Media Department. It can be viewed at

Emily was diagnosed in 2010. For three years, Local 459 members rallied to donate vacation days and money to allow the Whiteheads to continue to be with Emily during her treatments.

So did employees at Penn State University, where Kari works as a research and evaluation associate in the school's Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. Penn State students also donated proceeds to the Whiteheads from their annual dance marathon to support children stricken by cancer.

Tom said he was able to take 280 vacation hours in 2011 — almost seven weeks. In 2012, when Emily's condition was its most dire, he took 250 hours — 65 full days.

Donations covered most of the expenses not covered by insurance or Medicare, which the Whiteheads qualified for. Emily has been cancer free since undergoing an experimental treatment with altered immune cells at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in the spring of 2012.

The New York Times featured Emily's revolutionary treatment and recovery in a front-page story in December 2012. Other media outlets picked up on it and she's been a celebrity ever since, meeting President Obama, actor Bradley Cooper and Napster founder Sean Parker, who has started his own foundation for cancer research.

The letters and offers to help still come in and Tom said it's proven impossible to send thank you notes to everyone. But the family is trying to pay it forward in its own way.

In 2014, the Whiteheads started the Emily Whitehead Foundation to provide funding for childhood cancer research and to help make T-cell therapy available to more families.

"The support I've received from all my brothers and sisters out there has saved my daughter's life," Tom Whitehead said. "I couldn't be prouder to be part of this organization, so thank you."

A longer version of this story with more details on Emily's treatment can be viewed on the IBEW's website at


Emily Whitehead with her parents Kari and Tom Whitehead outside their home in Phillipsburg, Pa.