Community Builder: Families honor Chad and Jenn Holbrook for leading fight against pediatric cancer

(Source: WIS)
(Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Tucked in the lobby of Palmetto Health Children's Hospital, family, friends and fellow cancer-fighting families waited to surprise a couple they say has changed their lives.

"He made this place a better place to live, a better hospital and our lives are way better because of them," Rob Teal, whose son Bayler passed away from cancer in 2010, said.

"We wanted to let the community know, if they didn't know, how much they do for people because most of it is behind the scenes," Mary Kruse, grandmother to Lexington girl Kaylin Zimms who passed away from Leukemia last August, added.

Chad and Jenn Holbrook have shared publicly about their son Reece's battle with Leukemia at the age of 2.

"As a mom, the possibility of losing a child, that word cancer, just scares the heck out of anybody," Jenn Holbrook said back in 2012 during an interview about Reece.

Now 15, Reece is a healthy teenager, but his cancer battle served as inspiration for the Holbrook's Win Anyway Foundation, which was founded that same year. Since then, Win Anyway has annually held auctions and concerts to raise thousands in the pediatric cancer fight.

"I've always thought there are a lot of unfair things in life, I can't think of anything more unfair than to tell a 2-year-old or a 3-year-old that they have cancer," Chad said in a 2013 interview about their foundation.

While cameras may have captured some of their efforts, families like the Teals say there are a thousand more moments never recorded.

"They did a lot more off the camera than on the camera," Rob said. "They were always calling to check on us always wanting me to come by the stadium."

Gamecock Nation quickly came to know cancer fighter Bayler Teal during the Gamecocks 2010 run for the National Championship. Dad Rob said in addition to walking with them during Bayler's fight, the Holbrooks have helped to keep his memory alive.

"I just don't think any of that would've happened without him, not to mention all the money that he's donated," Rob said. "$1,000 for every win during his five years which was a lot of wins has gone to Bayler's Prayers."

The hospital says the Holbrooks have already given more than $140,000 through Baylor's endowment and Chad has served on the hospital board for 6 years. But families like that of Kaylin Zimms who passed away last August insist it's the personal connection that no statistic could ever define.

"When we were down at MUSC when things were getting bad toward the end of Kaylin's life, as busy as Jenn was she would always text me or call me to ask me what was going on," Mary said. "She'd cry with me."

Jenn now serves on the board for the nonprofit established in Kaylin's honor called Kick It, Kaylin.

"They truly care about these kids and they pay it forward every day," Mary said.

For Mary, that made waiting for the big surprise for Jenn and Chad all the more special.

"You all have been chosen as our Community Builders for all of your help in our community and the Win Anyway Foundation and everything that you guys have done to support other foundations for pediatric cancer, so thank y'all very much," Matt Mungo said.

The Holbrooks said they were grateful for the honor, but insisted credit is due to the supporters in the community and all the families who continue the fight. Something they don't ever intend to stop.

"As long as there's not a cure, this foundation's going to keep fighting," Chad said. "I don't think there's a cure anywhere close, so for a lifetime we're going to continue to fight to give kids a chance."

Holbrook says he intends to continue that fight in the Columbia area despite his recent resignation as the head coach of the University of South Carolina Baseball team.

"Our foundation has been special to us and just because I'm not coaching baseball at South Carolina anymore doesn't mean that kids are going to still be getting diagnosed with cancer, so we're going to keep fighting," Chad said.

Holbrook said he's also getting exciting for Win Anyway's next big event in Columbia which will be a concert headlined by Old Dominion on Oct. 6 at the Township Auditorium.

"Our foundation is going to continue to fight for kids in the state and the city in this community in this hospital and the families that are fighting this disease or different types of cancer," he added. "So, we're just lucky to be in a great community with a lot of great people that support our cause."

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