Naperville North students make good on pledge to shave heads to battle cancer

  • Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson, left, whose twin brother Michael died in 2013 from brain cancer, shaves her head with her best friend, Kira Couch, right. The girls raised about $28,000 together for pediatric cancer research.

      Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson, left, whose twin brother Michael died in 2013 from brain cancer, shaves her head with her best friend, Kira Couch, right. The girls raised about $28,000 together for pediatric cancer research. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson, left, whose twin brother Michael died in 2013 from a brain tumor, reacts to having her head shaved. Gustafson and her best friend, Kira Couch, right. who also shaved her head, are raising money for the Swifty Foundation, which supports research of pediatric cancer.

      Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson, left, whose twin brother Michael died in 2013 from a brain tumor, reacts to having her head shaved. Gustafson and her best friend, Kira Couch, right. who also shaved her head, are raising money for the Swifty Foundation, which supports research of pediatric cancer. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson smiles with her best friend, Kira Couch, right. after they had their heads shaved Sunday to raise money for pediatric cancer.

      Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson smiles with her best friend, Kira Couch, right. after they had their heads shaved Sunday to raise money for pediatric cancer. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Kira Couch, left, and her best friend Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson, pose for one last photo before shaving their heads shaved. The girls raised about $28,000 together for pediatric cancer research.

      Kira Couch, left, and her best friend Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson, pose for one last photo before shaving their heads shaved. The girls raised about $28,000 together for pediatric cancer research. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • An audience of family and friends watch Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson and her best friend, Kira Couch, have their heads shaved to raise money for pediatric cancer research. Together they raised about $28,000.

      An audience of family and friends watch Naperville North High School junior Bridget Gustafson and her best friend, Kira Couch, have their heads shaved to raise money for pediatric cancer research. Together they raised about $28,000. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/16/2014 5:38 PM

Bridget Gustafson and Kira Couch walked through the room on Sunday while family and friends cheered, clapped and reached out to rub the girls' heads.

Bridget and Kira, best friends and juniors at Naperville North High School, had just had their heads shaved in an effort to raise money for the Swifty Foundation, an organization that Bridget's twin brother, Michael, helped establish shortly before dying from brain cancer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Both said the experience was even more intense than they expected.

"I feel overwhelmed with love!" the newly shorn Bridget said while friends hugged her. Kira agreed. "This is really amazing," Kira said. "And I just want to keep feeling my head!"

Michael Gustafson passed away in 2013, roughly five years after doctors discovered that he had a malignant brain tumor. After his death, Bridget and Kira promised each other that they would get their heads shaved on Bridget's 17th birthday, which was Sunday. They did it to raise money that would go toward pediatric cancer research.

Bridget said that combined, the two of them raised roughly $28,000.

"The support we've gotten has been insane," Bridget said. "People from every school around here, Naperville North, Naperville Central, Benet -- so many have come through for this."

The two friends held hands while family members cut their hair inside the Gustafson family's home in Woodridge. Friends snapped photos and issued words of support throughout.

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"They're doing such a brave, inspiring thing," said Sam Holmberg, a friend from Naperville North.

Ian Gustafson, Bridget's older brother, helped shave his sister's head. He made a special trip home from Johns Hopkins University to participate.

"I wouldn't have missed this for anything," he said. "If my sister can make this kind of commitment, then I have to be here with her."

The family launched the website for the Swifty Foundation, swiftyfoundation.org, roughly a month ago. Its name comes from a family nickname for Michael, and its mission is to raise money to support research of pediatric cancer.

Al Gustafson, Bridget's father, said the organization already has raised about $85,000, not including what Bridget and Kira raised together. The family started the foundation with money that would have gone to Michael's education and inheritance, he said.

As for what his daughter and her best friend did on Sunday, Al Gustafson's reaction was simple.

"I'm proud beyond words," he said.

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