Local family hosts Toy Drive for children battling cancer

The Toy Drive for Kids of St. Jude at the Manhattan City Park on April 30th, 2016. (Hamza Ahmed | The Collegian)

This past weekend, a local family hosted their fourth annual Toy Drive for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at City Park in memory of their son, Brady Mortimer, who lost his battle to childhood cancer in 2012.

“It’s more than just a toy drive,” Katy Mortimer, mother of Brady, said. “It’s honoring Brady, bringing the community together and making people aware that kids get cancer too.”

Each year, Brady’s parents, Katy and Jason Mortimer, collect toys to send to children being treated at St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee.

Katy said it may not seem like a lot, but to those kids who are going through treatment or having a bad day at the hospital, it means the world.

“After visiting St. Jude, I fell in love,” Bailey Otto, sophomore in accounting and member of Delta Delta Delta sorority, said. “All the little patients I had the opportunity to meet never failed to smile and laugh, even while going through the hardest of times.”

This year’s guest of honor was 3-year-old Gaige Atwater, who is currently battling optic pathway glioma, a type of brain cancer, and is undergoing treatment at St. Jude.

“Knowing that cancer is real and there are doctors working every day to find a cure gives me a drive to raise money, or do anything I can for St. Jude to keep the research going,” Taylor Hart, sophomore in marketing and member of Delta Delta Delta, said. “I’m proud to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

At age 2, Brady was diagnosed with Atypical Teratoid/Rhabdoid Tumor, a rare form of brain cancer with a 20 percent survival rate, according to Katy. Katy said she remembers Brady complaining of chronic headaches and eye pain.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” Katy said.

Initially, Brady’s parents were assured by a doctor it was only a virus, and Brady would start feeling better with time, Katy said. As time went on, however, the symptoms persisted and Katy demanded a CT scan for her son, which revealed a brain tumor.

“I was so heartbroken, shocked, confused and filled with so many questions and emotions,” Katy said.

Two days later, Brady underwent eight hours of brain surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Three weeks later, Katy and her family were sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in hopes of a cure for Brady.

“St. Jude is important to me because it’s just not a hospital my son went to; it’s a place where we lived and became family with those around us,” Katy said. “They offered us so much hope, and the quality of care and the quality of life they provided to my son and our family was top-notch.”

On Aug. 4, 2012, just four months after his diagnosis, Brady died while undergoing treatment at St. Jude, according to Katy.

“Brady was outgoing, friendly, funny and giving,” Katy said. “He was a ray of sunshine in everyone’s life that he met. He gave so much to others and taught them the real meaning of living life to the fullest.”

Shortly after Brady’s death, Katy said her family started “The Brady Fund” in memory of their son to give back to children battling cancer.

“Meeting the Mortimer family a year ago has given me a new perspective,” Hart said. “Katy has shown me that there is still life after tragedies, and all you can do is live it. She lives her life always doing things to remember her son and to support St. Jude.”

Katy said “The Brady Fund” has been a way for her to heal. It turned something so tragic into something positive.

“This family has impacted me in a bigger way than they know,” Otto said. “They have shown me what true strength and compassion for others is like.”