Messenger photo by Jeff Pfeil
Corey Bennett (back) hosts a softball tournament every year in West Jefferson. This year, proceeds went to the family of Nathan Elfrink (front).
Corey Bennett of London has been raising money to fight cancer since before Nathan Elfrink was born. This year, 6-year-old Nathan was the beneficiary of the seventh annual Bennett Memorial Softball Tournament, held July 26 at Merrimac Park in London.
Nathan, son of Dode McVey and Tod Elfrink of West Jefferson, has a tumor on his brain stem. He had his first surgery to remove the tumor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in April 2004, his father said.
Two years later, the tumor was back. The 4-year-old underwent a second surgery at Children’s in 2006. Now, it’s back again and Nathan has at-home chemotherapy. In March, he went to The Ohio State University Medical Center for radiation treatments.
The tumor may be shrinking, his father said, “but it’s still there.”
Bennett, who organi-zed his first tournament in 2001, when his dad, Roy, was sick with cancer, knows what the fight is like. He has lost eight family members to breast cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer and leukemia.
His grandmother died of cancer only 6 months after giving birth to her youngest child, the only child still alive, said Bennett’s mother, Chris Bennett.
After his dad died, Bennett felt he should keep the fight going for others diagnosed with cancer.
“I kept it going because I know what everybody is going through,” he said.
At first, Bennett wanted to help save children in Madison County. He contacted hospitals and hospice services, but could find no children suffering with cancer.
When he told his mother, she said, “Oh, Corey, that’s a good thing!” He realized that it was indeed good. He decided to channel his efforts to help anyone who needed it with a priority for Madison County cancer patients.
People started calling Bennett with names of people he could help, he said. This year, it was a child. His cousin, Paula McCombs, and her husband, Bobby, of London told Bennett about Nathan.
When Nathan was a toddler, he took a tumble while at a babysitter’s, Elfrink said. A doctor recommended that Nathan be taken to Children’s Hospital to be checked for a possible concussion.
“Unfortunately or maybe fortunately,” his father said, a scan revealed a brain tumor. “It was just a fluke. We were very, very lucky.”
Nathan has gone to pre-school, kindergarten and now attends Charles Morris’s first-grade class at West Jefferson Elementary School, his father said. He has a slight paralysis on the left side of his face, no hearing in his left ear, and needs to wear glasses.
He also plays soccer, T-ball and swims, “just like any normal little boy.”
The Elfrink family has insurance but still pays $4,000 to $5,000 each year for Nathan’s care.
The softball tournament raised $3,222.38 which went to the family, but “will go directly to Children’s,” Elfrink said.
The money comes from the $100 tournament entry fee paid by 16 teams this year; concessions sold to the public; and t-shirts designed and sold by Bennett. The shirts feature the tournament name and the names of Bennett’s father and uncle, Carl, who also died from cancer.
Most of the food sold was donated by merchants and the public, “usually people who have been stricken and know what it’s like,” Bennett’s mother said.
“The Red Brick Tavern really helped out a lot this year,” she said, “and Save-A-Lot always helps out.”
While Chris Bennett has lost a husband to cancer and worries for her children, she is proud of the work 32-year-old Corey has done.