Shirley Ford is on a mission; Nikki Holland is on a mission; Tim Bent is on a mission; Greg Gibbs is on a mission – Brady’s mission, and they are just a few of many.
Three-year old Brady, son of Tim and April Smith, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma last summer, and since then their friends and neighbors in Webster have been on a mission to help the little guy’s parents with the financial and emotional support they’ve needed to cope with Brady’s illness.
Last fall neighbor Shirley Ford organized a chicken barbecue fundraiser, Nikki Holland of the Powerhouse Gym held a special fitness event to raise money for Brady's Mission, and Webster Police Detective Gordon Wentworth secured a $5,000 grant from the Cops for Kids with Cancer foundation.
And last week Police Chief Timothy Bent and the department teamed up with the Powerhouse Gym to sponsor the Battle for Brady live boxing event, raising about $5,000 for the cause. A friend of the Smith family, Andy Palmerino, organized the event.
In Webster for this special event was the newest member of Brady’s fan club: Gregory Gibbs, harpoonist on National Geographic’s TV program Wicked Tuna. Greg spent last Friday in Webster and brought along some prizes for the raffle: a harpoon and charter tickets for the Wicked Tuna boat Christina.
Shirley Ford did the honors, showing Greg and his son Cameron around town and the Lake. They visited with Chief Bent as well as Dudley Police Chief Steven Wojnar, went to lunch at Eighty-Ates in Dudley, and then stopped by the Powerhouse Gym for some photos.
“It’s an honor to be here in Webster,” said Greg, during the photo shoot. He wanted it understood, thought, that he’s not a celebrity. “I’m no Tom Cruise, just an average guy.”
Greg, who lives in Andover, told us that he first heard about Brady through facebook when a friend of Shirley asked him to sign a T-shirt for the little boy. He then went to visit him at Children’s Hospital. “I brought him a big Tonka truck and other toys, and he was really excited, he said ‘truck, truck.’ We played with the toys, and when it was time to go, his parents told him to thank me. He wouldn’t say it then, but later I received a video, and in it Brady says, ‘thank you, Greg’.”
So how did Gregory Gibbs get celebrity status on Wicked Tuna? Captain Kevin Leonowert, owner of the Christina, asked him to come along one day. “I’ve been fishing for bluefin my whole life. My dad would take me along with him. But he couldn’t harpoon a fish to save his life. One day when I was eleven he gave me a harpoon and said, ‘here, you try.’ I got up on the bow pulpit and below me saw thirty or forty fins and tails. I couldn’t believe their size.” Greg said he aimed and harpooned a tuna right in the back. It wasn’t beginner's luck either. The next day he did it again.
After his experience with Brady, Greg said he now plans to go to Children’s Hospital every month to visit kids with cancer. “Some people are real cynical – they think it’s for publicity for the show. They ask me ‘what are you getting paid to do that?’ I tell them: ‘nothing.’ I have a heart too, you know. I lost my best friend to brain cancer.”
On Friday afternoon, Nikki Holland, co-owner of Powerhouse Gym with husband Scott, was really excited about the boxing event and Greg Gibbs’s participation. “The charter tickets should go for a thousand dollars…they’re worth that,“ she said. Nikki hoped that the event would be overflowing with people and was disappointed when she found out the legal limit at the Town Hall Auditorium is 800. And with the Chief there, that would be sure to be enforced. She needn’t have worried; there weren't a lot of empty seats on Friday night.
Brady’s dad Tim Smith also stopped by the Powerhouse Gym to meet Greg Gibbs, and brought us up-to-date on Brady’s progress. Brady had a bone marrow transplant about a month ago, and is now in the 100-day isolation period that follows transplant surgery. “He has no immune system, so until he builds it back up, he can’t have any visitors, just us and his grandparents, that’s it,” said Tim.
Brady goes to the Dana Farber Cancer institute every Friday for lab work. This Friday his platelet count was low, so he had to get a transfusion. He will start a daily, month-long radiation series at Brigham & Women’s next week. After that, he begins an antibody treatment that involves a four-day hospital stay every month for six months.
“When the doctors first gave us the diagnosis, they told us their goal was to cure him,” said Tim. But they said it would be a long road, eighteen months to two years. So far, it’s going according to schedule.
“Before this when I would see a kid with cancer, I’d think that it must be difficult to deal with. And all of a sudden you’re living that life. It’s intense. But you have no choice.” Tim said what goes on around you becomes a blur sometimes, because you’re so focused.
Tim is an insurance adjuster and April stays home to take care of Brady. “I took time off at first,” said Tim, “but somebody has to work. April is amazing. I can’t say enough about what she takes on. A lot of the care falls on her shoulders. She is an amazing mother.”
“We just keep looking at the positive; we keep moving forward,” said Tim.
The outpouring of support from the community has been incredible, said Tim. The people in Webster have been wonderful. “A lot of people have taken on a lot to help us.” Brady has more than 6000 “likes” on facebook, he said. He has received cards and packages from all over the world, Thailand, England, from people who don’t know him.”
Brady will be four years old on May 20. We wonder how many birthday cards and messages he will get.