Our Journey

Emily is alive today because of cancer research.

We have seen firsthand how cancer research is saving lives, but in order for innovation to happen researchers need funding. CAR T-cell therapy saved Emily's life, and we are dedicated to supporting the researchers working to improve the treatment options for children.

Emily's Story

Emily Whitehead was diagnosed with standard-risk pre-b acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in May 2010 when she was five years old.

Typically, children diagnosed with this type of leukemia have an 85% to 90% chance of being cured; however, Emily relapsed in October 2011. A bone marrow transplant was scheduled for February 2012, but Emily relapsed again just weeks before the transplant date. Her leukemia was so aggressive that doctors felt they had run out of options and recommended that she go home on hospice.

Emily’s parents, Tom and Kari, were not willing to give up. They had heard about an innovative new treatment called CAR T-cell therapy that had just become available at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). In April 2012, Emily was enrolled in a Phase I clinical trial and became the first child in the world to have her immune system trained to fight cancer. The process involved collecting her T-cells (a type of white blood cell), genetically reprogramming them to recognize and attack cancer cells, and infusing the modified cells back into Emily’s blood. The treatment was highly experimental, but it was Emily’s only chance for a cure. Incredibly, the T-cell therapy worked, and Emily has been in remission since May 2012.

Emily’s treatment gained worldwide attention, and her story has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, PARENTS Magazine, the Stand-Up-to-Cancer Telethon, HBO Vice, and the PBS documentary Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies by Ken Burns. A 3-minute documentary about her treatment called Fire with Fire by Oscar-winning director Ross Kauffman is available on YouTube.

Tom, Kari, and Emily travel internationally to share Emily’s story and to raise awareness for childhood cancer research. To inquire about speaking opportunities, please contact us.

We have been given so much and we hope to give back much more in return. With your help we can make a difference!

The Whiteheads
Our Mission

We saw firsthand how cancer research is saving lives; however, there are still children losing their lives every day because of limited treatment options for high-risk patients like Emily.

Children who have their cancer return are harder to treat because their cancer becomes resistant to standard therapies. Cutting edge treatments like the T-cell therapy are needed to help cure these children but funding is limited. Childhood cancer receives less than 4% of the National Cancer Institute budget for research. Many researchers rely on grants from non-profit organizations and private donors who are dedicated to raising funds for childhood cancer research.

Our focus will be on funding the most promising research such as the T-cell therapy that Emily received and other immunotherapies. We will continue sharing Emily’s story to promote awareness and inspire others to take action and make a difference.

The only thing we asked for throughout Emily’s treatment were prayers to help her get through each day, but we received so much more from people around the world. We are thankful for every day we spend with Emily. We believe in a cure. Let’s join together to end cancer!

Our goal is to raise funds to support further research and help make it possible for kids all over the world to activate their cure. Learn more about Our Impact.

In the News

In Girl’s Last Hope, Altered Immune Cells Beat Leukemia

Denise Grady
December 9, 2012

Is This How We'll Cure Cancer?

Matthew Herper
May 7, 2014

The face of a medical revolution marks five years cancer-free - and her 12th birthday

Marie McCullough
May 10, 2017

Tragedy, Perseverance, and Chance — The Story of CAR-T Therapy

Lisa Rosenbaum, M.D.
September 13, 2017

Against All Odds

Tom Whitehead, as told to Jo Cavallo
January 25, 2018

The Promise and Price of Cellular Therapies

Siddhartha Mukherjee
July 15, 2019

How Scientists Built a ‘Living Drug’ to Beat Cancer

Charles Graeber
July 25, 2019

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