Dinner to honor ailing 14-year-old
Over the past eight years, Gina Diaddigo has watched 14-year-old Hailey Van Der Weele grow up.
Diaddigo, of Penn Township, has been best friends with Hailey's mother, Stephanie Van Der Weele, since the pair worked together at the Pepperwood Grille on Route 30 in Hempfield.
“Hailey is the little girl you want your daughter to grow up to be,” Diaddigo said. “She's a warm, caring, wonderful little girl.”
Devastating news about the “athletic, intelligent, well-behaved” former Greater Latrobe student came this summer for Hailey and her family when she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a bone and soft tissue cancer.
Diaddigo said she and other family friends have done their best to be emotionally supportive, but wanted to contribute to the Van Der Weele family financially during this tough time, which includes regular trips to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
A spaghetti dinner is planned in Hailey's honor from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday in the Greensburg Masonic Center, 349 Donohoe Road, Hempfield.
Stephanie Van Der Weele said she and her husband, Michael, were hesitant at first to publicly accept help but have always been extremely grateful.
“It's hard to find words,” she said. “Luckily we have our family and friends that have done an amazing job with blood drives and fundraisers like this to keep us together.”
One local couple gave proceeds from a Greensburg haunted house, another friend set up a fundraiser dinner at a Hoss's restaurant and the volleyball team Hailey played on in the school district had a special fundraising match.
Coach Jordan Zeunges hoped for $800 in donations for the family in the “Dig 4 Hailey” event on Oct. 7, but ended up raising more than $7,000 with T-shirt sales, raffles and donations.
“I had no idea it was going to go that well,” Zeunges said, adding that the members of the team who knew Hailey were “ecstatic” at the total. “I'm very proud of all of them, especially the underclassmen.”
The coach was glad to see her former player happily spending time with her old teammates.
“They were laughing and doing what teenage girls do,” she said.
This was the first time many of them had seen Hailey without hair, but even members of the opposing team gave their support, Stephanie Van Der Weele said.
“It meant so much to her to see her friends, on the team, off the team,” her mother said.
The teenager faces surgery this week, which will remove her left kidney, her adrenal gland and possibly her spleen. The tumor doctors found was 11 by 14 centimeters, Stephanie Van Der Weele said.
That will require another round of treatments at the Lawrenceville hospital every day for five weeks.
“It's a day-to-day thing. You think you have things figured out, but you don't know what you're doing and where you're going,” she said.
The family, which had relocated to Ohio for Michael Van Der Weele's employment before Hailey got sick, is staying in the basement of a relative in Peters and hopes to find temporary housing close to the hospital with some of the fundraiser proceeds.
Diaddigo said she wants the dinner to give the family a sense of how much the community cares for them.
“To have the community come together and show support for the family, it means a lot to them,” she said.
Hailey hopes that one day she can get back to her favorite activities, such as hunting and skiing, her mother said.
“She's very positive,” Stephanie Van Der Weele said. “She's very strong-willed.”
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.