Emily "Emma" Whitehead :: My Journey Fighting Leukemia » My journey fighting childhood cancer.

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We are thrilled to announce that we have created a non-profit organization – the Emily Whitehead Foundation! The official press release is below or visit the official foundation page!
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The Emily Whitehead Foundation Launches to Support Pediatric Cancer Research

The Emily Whitehead Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to raising funds to invest in the most promising pediatric cancer research. The foundation also hopes to provide support to pediatric cancer patients and will promote awareness of the disease through education and sharing inspiring stories.

Philipsburg, PA (January 27, 2015) – Nearly three years after being the first child in the world to receive an experimental T-cell therapy at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to save her from a life-threatening cancer, nine-year-old Emily Whitehead and her parents launch the Emily Whitehead Foundation.

The non-profit foundation aims to direct funding to medical researchers to develop better treatment options and ultimately a cure for pediatric cancer. The foundation will promote pediatric cancer awareness and hopes to provide support for families facing the disease.

Tom Whitehead, father of Emily, and President / Co-Founder of the foundation, said, “We want Emily to be able to tell her grandkids that she was the beginning of the end of cancer. Emily does not want to lose any more friends to cancer. We believe in a cure and if we work together we can put an end to this terrible disease.”

Emily was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at age five in May 2010 and relapsed twice. After the second relapse, the Whiteheads were told they were out of options to treat her cancer. Not willing to give up, the Whiteheads pursued a radical new treatment called T-cell therapy at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Emily was the first child enrolled in the phase I clinical trial (known as CART-19 or CTL019) in April 2012. Her T-cells (a type of white blood cell) were collected from her body, and then, in a process using a disabled form of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the T-cells were genetically reprogrammed to recognize and attack cancer cells. When the modified T-cells were put back into Emily she became very sick and spent several weeks in the intensive care unit on a ventilator. At one point her doctor said she had only a 1 in 1000 chance of surviving the night. Not only did Emily survive that night, but a few weeks later her family was given the miracle they had prayed for: the T-cell therapy worked. Doctors couldn’t detect a single cancer cell in her body. Today, Emily is nearing three years cancer free.

Emily’s story gained worldwide attention and the trial has continued to achieve unprecedented results and provide hope to many other families facing the disease. Emily and her parents, Tom and Kari, now travel to speak at events and conferences to raise awareness and share their inspirational journey.

To learn more about the foundation, donate, and find out about upcoming events and ways to get involved, visit the website: www.emilywhiteheadfoundation.org.



  • Richard yeboah - very good idea but must be world wide supportReplyCancel

  • Victoria Miles - God Bless you Emily, My grandson had the same treatment and is doing great, Thank God.ReplyCancel

Tune in tonight (Friday, February 27th) on HBO at 10:00pm to see the VICE Special Report: Killing Cancer. The report shows how researchers are using viruses – such as the common cold virus, measles and H.I.V. – to treat various types of cancers. Part of the report will focus on the T-cell therapy and Emily’s treatment. Another T-cell patient, 11-year old Tori who was treated in the same clinical trial as Emily, will also be featured.

In addition, the Emily Whitehead Foundation has teamed up with HBO VICE and CrowdRise to raise money for cancer research! Please consider MAKING A DONATION HERE.

  • Linda - On December 30, 2014 I thought our world was coming to a catastrophic end. Our then 21 month old granddaughter Scarlett, who had been suffering with flu like symptoms for almost a month, was finally diagnosed in Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh,with leukemia (ALL). How could this happen, and why didn’t the doctors pick up on this through the many trips to the pediatrician and ER that month? In speaking with other grandparents and parents who were in the same situation, most experienced the same scenario. It was hard to even see a light at the end of the proverbal tunnel those first few weeks. After 7 days of treatment the bone marrow procedure still found cancer cells present. Our hearts sunk once more. On the 21 day after more chemo, a second bone marrow procedure was done. We were positive that all of the cancer cells were finally gone. The phone call from the oncologist came in the evening, as I looked at my daughters face I know that it was not good news–and it was not. Cancer cells were still present in Scarlett’s bone marrow. Our hearts sunk and we were brought to heart renching tears again. Only one more try before a bone marrow transplant would have to be considerd and that was 59 days away. Prayers and masses were being said by so very many family members, friends, and even strangers who heard about Scarlett. Day 59 came but because of a cold her count was too low to have the procedure. Another week of prayers, and hope for good results. Monday came and the blood work showed her counts were up and it was a go for the bone marrow procedure. We were told the results could posibally be in by Friday, but more likely Monday or Tuesday of the next week. Again, many prayers were being said and good wishes sent our way, a week seemed like a year. The results came in on Thursday (earlier than the Doctos expected) and the best news ever, NO CANCER in the bone marrow. Praise the Lord was being shouted all over the house along with tears of joy. We knew what would take place if cancer cells were still present, and were so very thankful that they were not. Scarlett still has many years to go before she is actually considered “cancer free,” but we believe she is. However, it is good to know what her alternatives are if there is a relapse. Contributions to “childhood cancer” is so very important to continue the research to make sure another child does not die do to cancer. One child’s death due to cancer is one too many. Thank you for sharing Emily’s story. God’s blessings.ReplyCancel

  • John - The TV special was fascinating. As with most of these shows, you never know how the patients are doing once the camera stops rolling, so please keep us up to date on her progress.
    I’d love to see these unconventional therapies work among a broad spectrum of people. If patients like Emily continue to live without recurrence, than it further substantiates the need for these treatments to go mainstream.
    Best of luck…ReplyCancel

  • Kim - Emily!!! Watched tour documentary on Vice, what a great story you have to tell!!! Love your beautiful brown hair and your contagious smile!! You are such a brave and inspiring young lady!! To your parents, what amazing souls you are!!! What strength you have! Ever since I saw the documentary I have been praying for you guys! I pray that God blesses you in ways you didn’t even imagine! Thank you so much for sharing your story!!ReplyCancel

We have had a lot of positive things happening lately which gives us the chance to continue spreading awareness about Emily’s miracle and the amazing success her therapy continues to have. She has been feeling great and she is thriving in 4th grade, learning to play the piano, and finally ready to try organized sports. We continue to get amazing offers for film and TV projects and we tell everybody as long as Emily feels good and that they make it fun for her then we will participate. The message is what is important and we want to make sure in the future all parents who battle pediatric cancer have the outcome that we have had. We know that there are many other trials waiting to start that need funded. Emily has even said when asked in interviews that she doesn’t want to lose any more friends.

emily-jn-15-2PINIMAGETwo weeks ago, Emily had an appointment at CHOP for bloodwork. While we were there we did filming and interviews with Shane Smith of HBO’s documentary show Vice. The T-cell therapy will be featured on an episode in late February. Shane mentioned that the T-cell therapy has reported a 90% success rate. Meaning that 90% of kids who get T-cells are able to achieve remission. I said that is phenomenal but it isn’t high enough. That means 10 families out of 100 will go home without their kids and we know many of these families. We know if there was more funding that Dr Grupp and all of the other oncologists would not have to be devastated when they have to tell another family that with all of their efforts, for some reason their child would not survive. I am amazed at how all of the staff dealing with pediatric cancer can deal with the stress. We are trying to do everything we can to get more donations and funding.

The Ken Burns film called the Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies will air on PBS on March 30, 31 and April 1. It will be 2 hours per night and Emily’s story will be toward the end of the series. A one hour premier has been made and it will be shown on February 12th at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. We will attend and then participate along with director Barak Goodman in a discussion with the audience after. It is open to the public.

emily-jan-15-1PINIMAGEWe have more exciting things to announce in the future but the most important thing is that Emily’s bloodwork came back with zero B-cells. The T-cells are still working and her bloodwork looks perfect. I wish I could say we will worry less now but the truth is we are now and will always just be happy for every day we get to spend as a family.

We Believe!

  • Tony Wroten - Hi Emily,

    I loved hearing about your story on HBO’s VICE and am so glad you are feeling better and successfully “Killing Cancer.” Back in 2012, my little 12-year old cousin Sofia lost a hard fight against Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Although she received chemotherapy for several years prior to her death and was in remission for a while, the chemo actually negatively affected her heart and eventually she died of heart failure on April 3, 2012 (right around the same time when you were in your own battle against cancer). Although we miss her very much, her loss has lit a fire in me to do anything possible to help other kids suffering from cancer successfully fight the horrible disease. Your story inspired me to inform my aunt and uncle about your success and the treatment that was used to help you. I have no idea what they plan on doing with the information, but I hope they are just as inspired as I was after hearing your story and it will help them with their own foundation, Sofia’s Hope (sofiashope.org). I hope some day someone will develop a similar treatment that can fight Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and cure kids just like you. I wish you the best and hope you fulfill your dream of going to college at UPenn. I myself just graduated from Indiana University and had some of the best years of my life, so you have a lot to look forward to.


  • Denise Kramer - My mother has leukemia, she is very old but I will watch this for my future and the future of my loved ones. Emily you are my hero, such a sweet lovely girl….stay strongReplyCancel

  • pat smith - My 4yr old granddaughter was recently diagnosed with ALL.Like Emily she was considered standard Tx,with a 90% cure rate until her genetic report came back with the leukemia cells being hypodyploid with less than 29 chromosones This happens to less than 1% of childhood leukemia pts.It happens to mostly adolescents.She was then placed on high risk and removed from clinical trial.She is now coming to an end of her induction phase and will be hoping and praying for remission.The tx plan is not definite yet but we r looking at a bone marrow transplant.If that does not work then she may be able to quailify for the t-cell tx.Her name is Alexis Rucker from Shenandoah ,Va.Please keep her in ur prayers!!ReplyCancel

  •  Jiang Dong - Pray for Amily,be healthy forever.ReplyCancel

  • Judy Williamson - I BELIEVE in Morrisdale. I pray for your entire family each morning to St. JudeReplyCancel