For a second straight year, the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation basketball jamboree in Glencoe has been canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those unfamiliar, the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation assists West Central Minnesota families who have children facing illness or injury. Money is awarded based on need and fund availability. It’s named for Tim Orth, a BOLD High School student who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in December 1995.
According to the foundation's website, "Tim will always be remembered for his courageous fight against the cancer that claimed his life on Feb. 14, 1997. His legacy, his fight, the Tim Orth determination and the inspiration he brought to us each day of his journey continues to be ongoing and a truly amazing gift."
Since 1996, TOMF has raised more than $3 million and helped hundreds of local children. One of the Foundation’s largest fundraisers is its annual basketball jamboree, during which senior boys and girls high school basketball players are invited to an all-star night of hoops, silent auctions, games and fun to raise money for the families of that year’s recipient.
Although restrictions due to the pandemic prevent people from being together to celebrate these courageous children and their families in person, they can’t stop them from carrying out the Foundation's main goal, to support children in need.
The 23rd annual TOMF event is still raising money through donations, raffle ticket sales, and an online auction with Fahey Sales that begins Monday, May 3, and ends Monday, May 17. All of the money raised will go toward this year’s seven recipients:
- Kole Strange, 2, of Hutchinson, the son of Marissa Bonderson
- Beau Brelje, 9, of Brownton, the son of Dave and Brenda Brelje
- Kaylynn and Kelcie Dircks, 5, of Stewart, the twin daughters of Brittanie Fischer and Damien Dircks
- Elowyn Gibson, 4, of Darwin, the daughter of Timothy and Megan Gibson
- Brayden Gildea, 14, of Glencoe, the son of Jim and Kari Gildea
- Lillian Gilliam, 6, of Gaylord, the daughter of Sarah Gilliam
For more information about TOMF or to make a donation, you can also visit timorthfoundation.org or the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation Facebook page.
The Leader reached out to some of this year’s recipients to learn more about the children who are being helped, and how the money raised through the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation assists the family.
— Stephen Wiblemo
Giving Strange and family a helping hand
Kole Strange of Hutchinson is a happy 2-year-old. He was born early with apnea and intraventricular hemorrhage.
“He was premature,” said mom Marissa Bonderson. “I was induced and he was born with three dead spots on his brain. He's going in for scans to make sure they're not getting bigger or worse. One of his tubes on his heart is bigger than its suppose to be. We're also monitoring the heart tube.”
His younger brother, Tucker, was diagnosed with the same heart issue, so doctors are monitoring him, too.
Kole receives physical therapy from Ally Kurth at West Elementary. It was Kurth who encouraged Bonderson to apply to the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation for financial assistance.
"I wasn't familiar with it until Ally told me about it," Bonderson said. "I looked up the website to read more about it."
Bonderson said she had forgotten about the application when Ralph Johnson, a longtime Tim Orth Memorial Foundation organizer, reached out to her. His timing was good because the family had suffered several reverses.
“We had a car accident and had to replace both car seats,” she said. “Our second child was an emergency C-section, so I was out of work. My fiancee had to be out of work to be with our oldest child. It was a little stressful for a little bit.”
In addition to Kole's need for physical therapy, he is starting to develop some sensory issues, which his caretakers have been watching.
"We'll do more testing on certain feels, tastes and textures," Bonderson said. "It was very stressful trying to find things for him to eat. Now that he's older he can tell me better what he wants to eat.
"I've gotten him to eat fruits and vegetables. They have to be mashed up. He won't eat them whole. He's just starting to eat chicken and he'll eat a burger. His favorite is Alfredo."
When it comes to fun, Kole is all about the outdoors.
"He likes to go on walks, loves animals and loves being outside," Bonderson said. "We go down (to the sanctuary) and look at the ducks and the deer. He enjoys it. We have two dogs and we take them to the dog park. He likes running around with them there."
— Kay Johnson
A fever becomes more serious for Gibson
For Elowyn “Wynnie” Gibson of Darwin, it started with a temperature.
“She had a fever for a couple of days before we took her in,” said her mom Megan. “At the young age of 3 years old, she'd kind of go in and out — a burst of energy and then lethargic and tired when the fever would spike up.”
Wynnie was diagnosed with what was thought to be a minor case of pneumonia. She was sent home and although she was on medication, her fever kept spiking.
“We took her back in,” Megan said. “Her oxygen levels had dropped and she needed to go to Children's Hospital.”
Fortunately, with no COVID-19 symptoms and Wynnie testing negative for the virus, both parents were allowed to be with their daughter in the hospital.
Her diagnosis was bacterial pneumonia. The infection had eaten a hole through her lung and leaked into the chest cavity.
“When we got there, they did a CT scan,” Megan said. “The infection had become gelatinous. They surgically inserted a chest tube and she was sedated and on a ventilator for four days."
Treatments were administered through the chest tube, and the infection also drained from the chest tube.”
It was during her 17-day hospital stay in October 2020 that Julie Dengerud, a board member of the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation and owner of Wynnie's preschool, Mighty Dragons in Litchfield, reached out to the family and shared information about the foundation. Megan said she was familiar with it because a cousin of a cousin's child had been a recipient a couple of years earlier.
“She told us, 'We'd love to help Wynnie,'" Megan said. “We applied while we were in the hospital. We faxed the application back to Julie. I had heard of the foundation but I wasn't aware of how much they do — the auctions and raffles they put on. This year is a little different with COVID. They're not able to do all those things.”
It was Ralph Johnson, a longtime Tim Orth Foundation supporter, who called Megan with the good news: “We'd love to help you out.”
The financial support from the foundation will be used to pay medical bills Wynnie incurred during her hospital stay and for physical therapy after her release.
Six months after Wynnie's hospitalization, she has fully recovered from her ordeal. Her mom described her as a "normal child with lots of energy." The hope is that her bout with bacterial pneumonia was a one-time deal.
When it comes to the Tim Orth Memorial Foundation, Megan has nothing but good things to say.
“Yes, definitely apply,” she said. “Any little bit helps out when a family has bills coming in. We've been so lucky to have them.”
— Kay Johnson
Brelje getting back to being a kid
After experiencing headaches for about four years, Brenda and Dave Brelje of Brownton decided to have their son Beau checked out. On May 2, 2020, the 9-year-old was diagnosed with a brain tumor known as anaplastic ependymoma. Six days later Beau had surgery at Children’s Hospital.
Next came seven weeks of radiation treatments at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, then a two-week break followed by chemotherapy.
“At first they said he only needed radiation, but they decided Beau also needed to have chemotherapy,” Brenda said. “Beau did very well with radiation, but the chemotherapy was a different story.”
Brenda called the chemo horrible as Beau lost 20 pounds and needed physical and occupational therapy to help him recover.
“He would go to Children’s Hospital on a Sunday or Monday for three days of chemo,” Brenda said. “The plan was to come home on Thursday's, which didn't happen most times because he was so sick from the chemo. Side effects included hearing and weight loss, plus neuropathy.”
All of the ordeals were made even more difficult having to deal with COVID at the same time. There is some good news, however, as Beau recently had an MRI scan showing no cancer and no regrowth, but with some inflammation.
“This will be repeated every two months for another year with the intent to keep moving forward and get back to being a kid,” Brenda said.
Beau, who will turn 10 on May 31, has been able to return to some of his favorite activities, such as tae kwon do, which helps with his balance and strength. He's also a member of the Lake Marion Lakers 4-H club, and has enjoyed opportunities made available to him though the Make-a-Wish program and HOPE Kids program.
Dave and Brenda built their home in Brownton in 2006. Dave grew up on a farm just a few miles from Brownton. Brenda grew up in Waconia. The other children are Nick (24), Jessica (21) and Bailey (13). Beau is a student at First Lutheran School in Glencoe.
“We are so very grateful for all of the support the community has given us,” Brenda said. “There are so many people that have touched our lives.”
— Dave Pedersen
Gildea battles leukemia with ‘heart of gold’
On Thursday, May, 7, last year, just a week before his 14th birthday, Brayden Gildea was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Although in most cases it can't be cured, treatment can help you live longer and better. Brayden will benefit from funds raised by the Tim Orth Foundation.
“I'm asking that we rally behind Brayden and the other Tim Orth recipients as they continue to take on this fight,” said his mother, Kari. “Every penny and every prayer counts. A little goes a long way and can help alleviate the stress and financial burden that comes along with this.”
It all started the beginning of March last year when Brayden complained of left knee pain from what he thought was an injury he sustained at school. Pain eventually moved to the other knee and legs. He would get nose bleeds and was always tired.
“Brayden started complaining about a pain in his ear and he was running a temperature,” Kari said. “I told him that it was time to go to the doctor. He went to take a shower but passed out on the bathroom floor. We went straight to urgent care, where they thought he had an ear infection. I insisted further testing to be done so we could figure out why all the aches and pains.”
After getting the lab tests back, Brayden was sent to Children's Hospital by ambulance because his white blood cell count was extremely low.
“After hours and hours of waiting and worrying, we received the confirmed diagnosis of leukemia,” Kari recalled. “And just two short hours after receiving this devastating news, Brayden was headed into surgery for a bone marrow biopsy/aspiration, lumbar puncture and a port placement.”
Brayden spent 18 days at Children’s Hospital, which Kari said during COVID felt like an eternity.
“He wasn’t allowed to have visitors other than parents,” she said. “This made it very difficult, as our lives had been turned upside down. How do we begin to understand this terrible word called cancer?”
The ninth-grader has an older brother, Ben, and a younger sister, Bethany. He was to be confirmed at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Glencoe, but he was in the hospital at the time. Recently, there was a private family confirmation service for Bayden.
This year he hasn’t been able to attend school in person due to his weakened immune system and COVID-19. Some of his favorite school activities include trapshooting, knowledge bowl, band and choir. Brayden loves the Minnesota Twins and the Seattle Seahawks. He also enjoys hunting, fishing, riding ATV, jumping on the trampoline, playing baseball and shooting his bow and arrow.
“By looking at Brayden you would never guess that he is going through something so tough, so difficult,” Kari said. “He is so strong, so courageous and always has a smile on his face. He is the most kind, caring and generous kid with a heart of gold."
— Dave Pedersen