From Pain to Promise
The Mitchell Thorp Foundation
A family’s personal journey brings light to others
Posted on July 2, 2018
When John and Dawn Sullivan’s son Keane was diagnosed with Stage 3 high-risk neuroblastoma at just 16 months old, it came with a devastating 40 percent rate of survival five years from initial diagnosis. Like any parents, the Sullivans’ only choice was to pursue every avenue to a cure for little Keane. And with that would surely come the innumerable medical bills. To help, shortly after Keane’s diagnosis, a friend recommended the Sullivans reach out to the Mitchell Thorp Foundation, a local organization that provides assistance and support to families of children with long-term or life-threatening illness.
The foundation, created by Carlsbad residents Brad and Beth Thorp, works with roughly 15 to 20 families per month, providing medical and home financial assistance, healing and rehabilitation, a wheelchair conversion program, and youth leadership counseling. All expenses are paid directly to the vendors so contributions don’t impact the families’ eligibility for other services, as is the risk with well-meaning donations such as GoFundMe accounts. “People don’t realize that the donated money can cause people to lose their insurance if they have to claim that as income,” explains Beth. “All of a sudden, their benefits are in jeopardy.” Additionally, donors can be confident that their contributions go where they’re promised. Funds are generated primarily through individual donations, corporate sponsors, and events.
The Thorps founded the nonprofit after losing their son, Mitchell, to a devastating and mysterious undiagnosed illness in November of 2008 at age 18. Though they initially couldn’t have imagined how their loss could ultimately help others, when two boys who Brad coached in baseball were each diagnosed with cancer less than a year after Mitchell’s death, the Thorps were inspired to work through their grief and share the invaluable knowledge they’d gained of how to effectively raise money, and the ins and outs of navigating hospitals, insurance companies, and services and support systems that exist for people in their situation.
Though they initially couldn’t have imagined how their loss could ultimately help others, the Thorps were inspired to work through their grief and share the invaluable knowledge they’d gained
“We are very faithful people, and I felt like God was just wrapping his arms around us and saying, ‘This is not the end. This is just the beginning,’” says Beth. “Now, here we are going on our tenth year, just to see how it’s grown, people its helped, programs developed, it’s an actual organization. It’s very interesting to see how it all worked out.”
Their deep, personal connection to their cause brings comfort and reassurance to the families they assist. “I think it helps them knowing someone else has walked the walk, because you do feel very isolated,” says Beth. That was definitely the case for the Sullivans. “We knew from the moment that we met them that they knew what we were going through and that they were going to be there for us,” says Dawn. “We didn’t really even have to say that much for them to know.” Were it not for the Mitchell Thorp Foundation, she says, “we wouldn’t have had that support that we needed, emotionally and financially.”
One of the organization’s primary fundraising events is its annual Pillars of Hope Grand Slam Party. The event was originally conceived by the Thorps’ friends George and Sherryl Jackson, whose daughter had been a classmate of Mitchell’s. The Jacksons serve as co-chairs of this year’s party, which takes place at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa on July 28. The evening includes dinner and an auction, offering unique items including tickets to the American Music Awards, a getaway to Scotland’s Pittormie Castle, and concert tickets for Elton John’s Farewell Tour, among others. The event will also feature a presentation of the Pillars of Hope Award to this year’s honoree, hematologist-oncologist Paula Aristizabal, MD, MAS, in recognition of her work at Rady Children’s Hospital. Guests are then invited to stay and enjoy a professional World TeamTennis match as the San Diego Aviators meet the Orange County Breakers on the resort’s center court. Last year’s event garnered $90,000 for the nonprofit, an amount they hope to exceed this year — meaning they’ll be able to help more families of kids like Keane Sullivan who, at three-and-a-half years old, is now cancer-free. mitchellthorp.org Deanna Murphy