As appeared in the Feb. 22, 2017 edition of The Daily Collegian
Nearly nothing gets Leah Fait excited like Penn State’s THON. The little 5-year-old even got bad marks on her “behavior card” in her kindergarten classroom last Friday because she couldn’t pay attention.
THON 2017: “Igniting Hope Within” was Leah’s third successful dance marathon, and she got to share it with her two organizations: Tapestry Dance Company and greek organization, Theta Chi.
Tapestry’s President, Emily Newton, said they are a student-run organization, delivering different styles of tap, self-choreographed by its members, and they have been participating in THON far before she joined.
“We were paired with [Leah’s family] my sophomore year,” Newton (senior-kinesiology) said. “We actually got paired with her about three weeks before THON 2015.”
In June of 2014, when Leah was about 3-years-old, she was diagnosed with leukemia. In no time she was beginning chemotherapy treatment, essentially living in Hershey Medical Center, Newton said.
“Nurses said she was always the brightest child, just in emotion and energy,” Newton said. “Even if she like just had chemo she would stand by the elevator, and she would greet people who came onto the floor — her favorite thing to do.”
Currently living in Chambersburg Pennsylvania, Leah is taken care of primarily by her grandparents, Diane and Rick Fait.
Newton said the pair told her that, even in the hospital, Leah always had “bundles of energy” and was almost never lethargic. Apparently that is one thing that has never changed.
Leading up to her first THON, in 2015, Leah had just finished her treatment.
“She had just gotten off of in-patient treatment nearly two months before THON,” Newton said. “She was bright and bubbly as ever. She was grabbing water guns and bubbles, and she didn’t have to wear a mask or anything.”
Megan Burns, current secretary for her THON organization, said she got to meet Leah for the first time in the final hour of the 2015 dance marathon. Burns (senior-mechanical engineering) was Tapestry’s Family Relations Chair at the time.
“You know, it’s that last hour so you have to push through, but she made that last hour go by so fast,” Burn) said. “She really kept us going. I’ll never forget that. She was a ball of energy and everyone was so excited to see her.”
After her first THON, having already completed treatment, Leah had monthly visits to Hershey — simple check-ups to make sure her blood work came back okay. Newton said she just got approved to begin going every three months instead.
“We’ve actually met up with her a few times when she goes to Hershey,” Newton said. “She’s getting in the clear. As of a few months ago, she has been two years in remission, which is really big.”
Fast-forward to THON 2017, and Burns actually had the opportunity to represent her organization and dance for the entire 46 hours.
“I can’t even begin to describe it,” she said. “It flew by honestly, can’t believe it’s already over.”
Additionally, their organizations raised a combined $35,601.84 for Four Diamonds.
Ashley Passarello, one of Tapestry’s current family relations chairs, said THON 2017 was amazing, and she was extremely proud of her organization.
“We’re really happy about [our total],” Passarello (sophomore-criminology) said. “It was a little more than last year’s.”
Newton said Leah had as much energy as ever in this year’s dance marathon, getting to do even more activities than in years before, and her grandparents had a better idea of what was going on.
“They are just so thankful that Leah has so many people around her that want to help her and want to play with her,” Newton said. “They are really touched by all of the volunteers and everything they do.
Marissa Glovier, the organization’s other family relation’s chair, said Leah was really just a ball of energy.
“I was like chasing after her,” Glovier (sophomore-elementary education) said. “It was really fun.”
After the weekend came to a close, Leah was featured on the front page of The Daily Collegian’s THON issue on Monday, and the Tapestry members noticed.
“I freaked out,” Newton said. “I took Snapchats and sent them to everyone. I sent it to my parents, sent it to my boyfriend who is an alumnus, sent it in all of our group chats — everyone was just freaking out about it. That’s our child.”
Passarello said talk of the picture, as well as the shot itself, quickly filled the organization’s GroupMe, and everyone was over-the-moon.
“That was awesome,” Burns said. “I was just going to class, and I picked it up. I noticed it was Leah and I just started freaking out. ”
Glovier said many of the girls brag about Leah like she’s their own daughter, and when she saw the cover she was astounded.
Newton said the photo soon made its way to Facebook, and someone in her organization tagged Diane.
“She’s your typical Facebook grandma,” Newton said. “Diane loves all the pictures and she actually made it her profile picture.”
Coming out right after THON weekend, Newton said it made her extremely excited.
Looking into the future, Newton and many other Tapestry members know that with a disease like cancer life needs to be taken day-by-day, but also they remain very optimistic.
“Half of the battle is just having a positive attitude,” Newton said. “You see so many of these kids — they’re some of the most positive people you’ll ever meet. I would like to hope that her prognosis is going to be great.”
Passarello said it’s hard to even imagine her even being sick because she cannot imagine her not having the energy she does now.
Burns said as well that Leah has been doing very well health-wise, and she just hopes Leah will stay on the same track.
“I think she has a very bright future in front of her,” Burns said. “She has so much potential to do whatever she wants.”
Leah also just began kindergarten this year, and that is something Newton called an important “milestone” for her to pass.
“You know, every time we see her, her hair is a little bit longer, she has a bit more energy,” Newton said. “I’m very positive toward her journey.”