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The Tommy Fund Celebrates Judge Tom Brunnock for His Devotion to Families Fighting Pediatric Cancer
The city of Waterbury knows Tom Brunnock as a probate judge. What many people don’t know is that Brunnock has worked for more than three decades as a volunteer for the Tommy Fund for Childhood Cancer. In that time the fund has raised $10 million for families fighting pediatric cancer. The monies paid for rent, utilities and other basic needs to allow families to focus on their sick child.
When the Tommy Fund started in 1953, New Britain firefighters raised $8,000 and donated it to Yale Medical School for leukemia research. Back then, leukemia was incurable—today the cure rate is more than 90 percent.
The fund was dormant for a few years until Yale-New Haven Hospital physicians asked parents to start again to raise funds for pediatric oncology. One of those parents is Brunnock who has served on the Tommy Fund board since 1985.
Back in the 1980s, Brunnock’s daughter, Shannon, was 8 years old and undergoing treatment at Yale-New Haven Hospital for rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancerous tumor of the muscles that are attached to the bones. Shannon was the second oldest of Brunnock’s four children.
Just at the end of her treatment, Shannon suffered a relapse. Brunnock and his wife, Cathy, flew Shannon out to the Mayo Clinic accompanied by a Yale nurse to try an experimental NIH protocol. Sadly, the treatment didn’t work and Shannon died on Nov. 4, 1987 at age 11.
“It was a shock,” Tom said. “The relapse was the most painful.”
Still, Brunnock was extremely grateful for the care his daughter received from nurses and physicians and the help he and his family received from the social workers.
Over the years, the Tommy Fund has supported initiatives at the hospital and Yale Medical School.
“Peter Beardsley, the head of pediatric oncology at the time, asked us to partially fund the fellowship,” Brunnock said. “Think of how many doctors we actually helped train. These doctors are all over the U.S. That’s neat.”
A few years later, a social worker position was going to be cut from the clinic, and again the Tommy Fund stepped up to pay half that salary for three years.
“The social worker is instrumental in treating the whole family,” Brunnock said. “Without the social worker, I never would have made it through.”
All through the years, the Tommy Fund has consistently paid mortgages, utility bills and other living expenses so that families could focus on spending time with their children fighting cancer. This work is made possible by donors of every kind – from large contributors like the Yvette and Arthur Eder Foundation to schoolchildren and through fundraisers like golf tournaments and holiday cards designed by pediatric patients.
AAA of Southern New England has stood out over the years, providing countless hours of volunteer manpower at Family Day and selling the holiday cards.
In 2001, the board strategically planned to invest $200,000 so that it could continue to help families in lean years. The board also decided to make a $1 million pledge to Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven to give the Tommy Fund a home. The pediatric cancer unit on the seventh floor is named after the Tommy Fund.
“Back in 1953, Tommy didn’t survive,” Brunnock said. “Today, the survival rate is over 90 percent. The organization is ever changing. It’s rewarding to see all projects we’ve funded and the families we’ve helped.”