Swim team raises more than $5K for toddler diagnosed with cancer

Published 2:29 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2022

LAPLACE — Members of the Holy Cross swim team arrived at Cypress Lakes Country Club in Destrehan early Saturday morning and took on the herculean challenge of swimming 100 laps across the pool to raise money for a toddler most of them had never even met.

For Holy Cross freshman Drew Launey, swimming has been a means to help and inspire others. His story was shared by the staff at Children’s Hospital to encourage children battling illness and injury after he found success at the state swim meet despite competing with a broken pelvis.

This time, swimming was a way for Drew to help 1-year-old Blakely Estevez, a little girl from St. Charles Parish who was diagnosed with childhood kidney cancer at only 9 months old in January of this year.

Drew and his mother, Karen, met the Estevez family after they noticed an unfamiliar black stroller in the neighborhood.

“Usually when we see new people in the neighborhood, we bring cookies,” Karen Launey explained.

From there, the Launeys learned that the Estevez family was staying with a relative after their home in Norco was destroyed by Hurricane Ida. When it rained, it poured, and the family soon found out their infant daughter had a cancerous tumor on her kidney. With Blakely’s father transitioning between fire department jobs at the time, a lapse in health insurance left the young family in a vulnerable position.

Drew set a goal to swim 100 laps for Blakely, raising 10 cents for each trip across the pool. Getting the entire Holy Cross swim team involved, the fundraising goal was set for $500. By the time the team gathered at Cypress Lakes Country Club this past weekend, well over $5,000 had been raised thanks to an outpouring of support from the Holy Cross family.

“Once the Holy Cross community heard about this, phones were ringing off the hook all day long with people asking how they could be a part of this,” swim coach Dale Turner said. “With them being a swim team brotherhood, they always rise to the challenge.”

Holy Cross Headmaster William Gallagher said the “Laps 4 Blakely” event fit into the theme for the 2022-23 school year.

“Our theme this year is family. When we heard about this young child suffering with this illness and our students decided to come together to help, to me that’s the definition of family right there,” Gallagher said. “It’s a great example of teamwork and selflessness to give up a Saturday morning. It’s really brought us together for a worthy cause.”

Even experienced swimmers know that a 100-lap challenge isn’t a walk in the park. George Guilford, who graduated from Holy Cross in 2021, was present Saturday morning to cheer on his younger brother and the entire team.

“Swimming 100 laps – that’s a marathon right there. I would say swimming is harder than football in most cases, and after swimming 10 laps, most people are done,” Guilford said.

Joining in on the 100-lap action was Children’s Hospital CFO Lou Fragoso. Dr. Timothy Skalak, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital, was excited to support Drew Launey on his mission to help others.

“We want to be part of the community around New Orleans. It’s important to me and important to Children’s. Seeing kids overcome their injuries and return to sports is what we are all about,” Dr. Skalak said. “For me, seeing athletes use their talents to do good things is important. This is an amazing event, and it’s always good to see kids doing good things for their community.”

Blakely’s mother, Abigail Estevez, expressed her appreciation to the Holy Cross swim team.

“We are so impressed and so thankful for those sweet young men and their drive to help a complete stranger! They could have spent their Saturday morning doing something else, but instead they choose to work hard and raise money, and that just says a lot,” Estevez said.

Since being diagnosed earlier this year, Blakely has endured chemotherapy and a major surgery to remove one of her kidneys. She was recently able to ring the bell to celebrate the end of her chemo treatments.

On September 1, Blakely will have her end-of-treatment scans. If the scans show no new growth, she will continue to be monitored with scans every three months until she is at least 3 years old.