One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life happened when my father was really sick. He had suffered a stroke, and he had been in a coma for three weeks. His situation kept deteriorating, to the point where the doctors told our family that he only had 12 to 18 hours left to live.
I was at college at N.C. State at the time. I remember my mom called me at 11:30 p.m., and she was sobbing. She told me, “He only has a little time left, Russell.”
My mother had been a nurse for most of her life, so she knew the gravity of the situation. She was alone with him in the room that night, and she bent down on one knee and started singing her favorite song from church to him. It’s called “All By Grace.”
After a few minutes, he started moving his hand a little bit.
My mom was shocked. She went to get the doctor.
At first, the doctor said that what she thought had happened — it was impossible. He said, “No, ma’am, that can’t be true. I’m sorry, but there’s no way he’s responsive at this point.”
But my mother insisted, and she said, “Just come and watch.”
So she bent down and started singing the song again.
Then she said, “Move your right arm.”
My father moved his right arm.
She said, “Move your left foot.”
My father moved his left foot.
He woke up out of the coma right then and there.
It was incredible. He was only supposed to be with us for another 12 hours, but he kept on fighting for another three years before he passed away.
I think about my father’s courage almost every day, and how he defied the odds. A few years ago, I was visiting a patient in the Seattle Children’s Hospital named Milton Wright. He was only 19 years old, and he was dying of cancer. This was actually his third bout with cancer. He was first diagnosed when he was eight years old.
The only option left for Milton was an experimental treatment called T-cell immunotherapy. It was a clinical trial that the hospital had never tried before, and there was no guarantee that it would work.
Milton was really down. He just kept telling the doctors, “This is it. I just don’t want to go through this anymore.”
When I visited Milton’s room, he seemed defeated. So I told him about the story about my father on his deathbed, and how hard he had fought. And then at the end, I just said, “Why not you? Why can’t you be the one to beat this?”
He said, “Yeah, why not me? Let’s do it.”
Milton ended up doing the immunotherapy trial, and after a grueling two weeks in the ICU he went into remission. He beat cancer for the third time, and he eventually got to leave that hospital and be a normal teenager again.
About sixth months ago, Ciara and I were at Seattle Children’s visiting some patients when we walked out of a room and saw this kid who looked really familiar.
My heart dropped. I couldn’t believe it. I almost started crying on the spot.
I said, “Milton?!”
He turned around like it was nothing and said, “Russ, what’s up?”
I said, “What are you doing back here?!”
He was just smiling. He said, “Ahh no, don’t worry about it, Russ. I’m just going around to the rooms and telling kids about immunotherapy. “I keep telling the kids what you told me: ‘Why not you?’ ’’
The whole afternoon, Milton went room-to-room and talked to kids about the treatment that had saved his life. If you’re not from Seattle, you may not have heard of T-cell therapy. It was pioneered at Seattle Children’s Hospital by Dr. Mike Jensen, and it’s truly groundbreaking. I really believe that it has the potential to change the world. It’s already working miracles. The hospital has put nearly 100 children into remission through T-cell immunotherapy. The success rate for treatments so far is 92%.
I have already seen so many kids whose lives have been saved by this medical breakthrough. Right now, the treatments are mostly based in Seattle, but Dr. Jensen has plans to expand the reach of immunotherapy to children all across the country. In the near future, there are plans to open additional facilities and treat other types of cancer.
A few years ago, I teamed up my Why Not You Foundation with Strong Against Cancer to help to increase access to immunotherapy treatments for kids around the country. Our mission is to try to give love and support to families who are fighting pediatric cancer, and to keeping moving the ball forward on research.
Last week, I hosted my annual Wilson Celebrity Invitational golf tournament to benefit Strong Against Cancer. The response we got was incredible. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and those who came out to have fun with us, we raised more than $2 million for pediatric cancer research.
We’ve also partnered up with Safeway for the whole month of July. Every time somebody goes to the checkout counter, they have the opportunity to donate $1, $3 or $5 to Strong Against Cancer.
Check out the video below to see some of the amazing kids we’re working with. But more importantly, if you’re inspired to get involved you can learn more by visiting Strong Against Cancer or the Why Not You Foundation.