by Darren Diekmann
Tanner’s Team Foundation, a local charity, presented a free virtual Christmas concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15. The pre-recorded performances included local and national acts.
The purpose of the event, entitled Fa La La For Families Virtual Christmas Concert, and the foundation’s mission, is to raise money for families of children with life-threatening illnesses. John and Cindy Fuls formed it 10 years ago after their son Tanner died of an infection from a bone marrow transplant to treat a type of pre-leukemia.
The concert presented more than a dozen performers.
“We are super excited about the lineup of performers,”said foundation board member and concert organizer Mary Swingle of Sartell. “Many of them are connected to the Fuls (family) in one way or another.”
Returning this year were the Killer Vees, a home-grown band, with a national profile. The band is made up of the sons of legend Bobby Vee. They also run Rockhouse Productions, a recording studio in St. Joseph.
Another performer, Kat Perkins, is also known nationally. She reached the semi-final round on season six of the NBC reality series The Voice. Before that she fronted for Scarlet Haze, a Twin Cities band that opened for Bon Jovi.
Heather Novak of St. Joseph sang “Oh Holy Night” at last year’s concert. This year her chosen song was, “Christmas Hallelujah.”
Novak decided to get involved after Mary Swingle, a friend and former co-worker, asked if she would sing. She readily agreed.
“I have watched Tanner’s Team as a spectator for years,” said Novak, adding she has been impressed with the positive impact it has had locally and throughout the state.
“So as soon as Mary asked me to do the concert, that was a no-brainer.”
Swingle said she presented the idea of a virtual concert at a foundation board meeting in 2020 as a way of compensating for the cancellation of its other fundraising events because of the pandemic.
One of the sponsors, St. Cloud Financial Credit Union, will match donations up to $5,000.
When the foundation started, it helped mostly local families, Fuls said. Then its area of impact continued to grow until today it reaches 48 Minnesota counties encompassing more than a 60-mile radius.
“The purpose of the concert is not just to raise money,” Swingle said. “We also want to raise awareness so families in need know about Tanner’s Team Foundation and can apply for the grants.”
In addition to the music, the show will feature the experiences of some of the grant recipients.
Maddie Reitz is one of those who received a grant.
Reitz, who is now 20, has suffered from Crohn’s disease since she was 7. Crohn’s affects the gastrointestinal tract. The illness made it necessary for her to be homeschooled and then attend Sartell High School online.
“I was so sick I didn’t have the energy or stamina to be at school,” Reitz said. “I had gone through pretty much every medication and had tons of surgeries.”
The last option, a bone-marrow transplant two years ago, finally cured the illness.
“They say, ‘cured,’ but sometimes people’s Crohn’s disease will come back later in life, but it is typically more mild,” Reitz said.
Before the procedure, chemotherapy treatments damaged her reproductive system. The grant helped pay for unexpected and costly fertility treatments.
“My mom didn’t work for six months during my bone-marrow transplant so it made a big difference for our family,” Reitz said.
She is now a first-year student at St. Cloud State University. Her long ordeal made her stronger and inspired her to study nursing.
John and Cindy Fuls became aware of Tanner’s illness when he was 11. In July 2010 he hit his arm on the counter at their cabin and an unusually large bruise developed.
Doctors became concerned after a blood test.
“They saw things in his blood that didn’t look right,” John said.
A trip to Children’s Minnesota Hospital and a bone-marrow biopsy led doctors to believe Tanner had a form of leukemia. Eventually, he was diagnosed with MDS, Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a type of pre-leukemia.
Tanner endured two rounds of chemotherapy and a radiation treatment in preparation for a bone-marrow transplant he underwent Nov. 8.
“The following weekend he developed an infection that he could not fight off,” John said. “He ended up in the intensive-care unit and passed away on Nov. 27.”
John and Cindy’s response was to move forward.
“We just needed a way to give back to the families who helped us when we were in need. We wanted to do something to pay it forward,” John said.
They began raising money with a 5K walk/run in conjunction with Sauk Rapids River Days Festival. They added other fundraising events in the following years.
“And we do celebrate Tanner’s birthday in March each year; that is a major fundraiser,” John said.
The foundation awards grants that average about $1,000 to applicants for anything from car payments to medical procedures. To date it has awarded more than $450,000 to more than 450 recipients.
To watch the concert, go directly to Tanner’s Team Foundation YouTube channel or Tanner’s Team Foundation Facebook page. The home page of their website also has links to the concert and a way to donate. www.tannersteam.org/donate.