NEWBURGH — Sam Featherstone, the Newburgh teen whose determination to conquer pediatric brain cancer has seen more than $200,000 raised over the past few weeks for research at St. Jude Children’s Hospital where he was treated, died Wednesday morning. He was 19.
“Sam is now walking cancer-free in heaven. He died peacefully in his sleep at home at 6:45 a.m.,” his mother Tammy Featherstone said in a Facebook posting.
“Sam was always very determined … He continued to improve, to work on his weaknesses and to never quit,” said his mother.
She illustrated that determination with a story of when, as a fifth grader at St. John the Baptist Catholic School at Newburgh, he didn’t make the cut for the school’s varsity basketball team. His response was not that of a typical fifth grader, she said. Instead of giving up and being upset, Sam spent hours practicing basketball in the driveway of his home and played as hard as he could on the junior varsity team.
One of Memorial High School’s class of 2012 valedictorians, Featherstone was first diagnosed with medulloblastoma — a form of brain cancer — in September 2009.
He had undergone surgeries and chemotherapy treatments at St. Jude and had enrolled in Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis but had been home since fall when tests showed the cancer had returned and he was out of treatment options.
His parents, Andy and Tammy Featherstone, said their son was a perfectionist who expected a lot out of himself, whether in academics, sports or hobbies.
“While he was sometimes quiet. He made friends quickly and lived his faith,” Tammy Featherstone said. “He was also a very appreciative person, always being thankful for even the most simple pleasures.”
Sam was attending IUPUI on a full scholarship and had aspirations to become a pediatric oncologist, having received provisional admittance to the Indiana University School of Medicine class of 2016, according to a St. Jude Tribute Page. Sam wanted to help children with brain tumors.
With those dreams cut short, he organized “SamStrong: Search for the Cure” to raise awareness of pediatric brain tumors and to raise money for research. In November, with the help of family and friends, Sam started planning a silent auction to benefit St. Jude and raise money for pediatric brain cancer research. More than 750 people attended that auction held Dec. 27 at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church far surpassing his initial goal of raising $25,000.
As of Tuesday, $200,079 had been raised in Featherstone’s name. Donations are still being received through the SamStrong post office box, P.O. Box 340, Newburgh, IN 47629-0340, and the St. Jude Tribute Page at www.samstrong.org.
Tammy and Andy Featherstone were not surprised when their son shared his idea for the benefit. They said he previously mentioned that he was thinking about how he wanted to be remembered, how he could make an impact and be a part of finding the cure for pediatric brain cancer.
“I want the children of tomorrow to be provided with more options than I was when I was initially diagnosed,” Sam said in a speech he gave to the Memorial High School student body.
Since he was 3, Sam was an artist. And when the cancer treatments resulted in him staying at St. Jude for several months, preventing him from participating in his other love, sports — basketball, soccer, track and cross country — Sam’s parents said he used his artistic talents to draw pictures and write poems that reflected his battle with cancer.
“Sam wanted to remind us all to never take anything for granted,” Tammy Featherstone said. “He wanted his journey to inspire us all to look at life a little differently and to realize the blessings that God has bestowed on us.”
A funeral will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. Visitation is from 1 to 8 p.m. Friday at Titzer Family Funeral Home’s Simpson Chapel, 510 West Jennings St. in Newburgh and from 9 a.m. until service time at the church.
Memorial contributions may be made to Memorial High School, 1500 Lincoln Ave., where a scholarship fund will be established. The Sam Featherstone Memorial Scholarship will be awarded to a graduating Memorial senior who overcomes challenges to succeed in high school.