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South Allegheny student gives back to Make-A-Wish

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 1:21 a.m.
South Allegheny second-grader Tony Cook holds a homemade cupcake in the shape of Make-A-Wish's star logo. Tony is reaching out to his school community to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
South Allegheny second-grader Tony Cook and his mother Diana Cook sell baked goods during an event at the district elementary school. As a thank-you to the foundation that helped him, Tony is seeking support from South Allegheny communities in raising funds for Make-A-Wish. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News

Tony Cook is thanking Make-A-Wish Foundation for a chance to replace daily pains with the simple joy of being a kid.

Tony, 7, of Liberty was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis at 9 months of age, after a chest X-ray during a severe illness revealed a tumor in his lung. Prior to surgery, Tony's family and doctors “thought the worst” in diagnosing the boy with malignant neuroblastoma.

After a biopsy, Tony's condition was determined to be noncancerous neurofibromatosis, which causes severe pain as tumors grow on nerve tissue.

“There's no cure,” his mother Diana Cook said. “Every six months, he goes in for an MRI. Every six months, we pray that there's not a tumor anywhere critical.”

An honor roll student and taekwondo green belt, Tony is active in school and at home. He isn't held back by the constant severe pain associated with his condition.

“It never crossed my mind that Make-A-Wish could help him,” Diana Cook said. “I didn't realize they have programs for any kid with a life-threatening illness.”

A family friend nominated Tony, along with his parents and siblings, for a Disney vacation and stay at the Give Kids the World Village storybook resort in April.

“Everything was wonderful,” Diana Cook said. “The volunteers colored pictures with our boys. They wanted to spend time with our family.”

Tony said the experience was greater than anything he could have imagined.

“It was fun,” he said. “I met the Avengers, I made a star with my name on it, and I got to eat ice cream for breakfast.”

Tony said he wants other children to have the opportunity to forget their pain, even for a short time.

“I know Make-A-Wish can help kids who have pain, and I like helping other kids,” Tony said. “I thought I should donate my money so kids can do whatever their wish is.”

The Cook family learned about Make-A-Wish fundraisers while listening to holiday music on WSHH 99.7 FM. Tony asked his parents Bilal and Diana Cook how he could help.

“We explained to him how people raise money, and he asked if he could do the same thing,” Diana Cook said. “He started with what he had, and he would not keep one penny in his piggybank.”

Tony handed over his savings last year, making a Christmas donation of $185.35. He hopes to raise funds all year for a larger donation this Christmas.

“I save up all the money from the tooth fairy and my report card money — all the money I have,” Tony said. “I'll take that and I'll donate it to Make-A-Wish.”

Tony raised $264.50 this month by hosting a bake sale during parent-teacher conferences at South Allegheny Elementary, where he is in second grade. He is planning another bake sale during South Allegheny's inaugural Dancing with the Athletes event on April 5 at 7 p.m.

Community events are being planned outside the school, Diana Cook said. Local Girl Scout troops are putting ideas together, and the Pittsburgh-based D.B. Root Co. is organizing an airline miles donation. Specific dates have not been set.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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