Community Champion Spotlight
A Visit with a Friends of Karen Family
Carly, age 14, has been looking for the silver lining in her recent relapse of leukemia.
She thought she had it beat. First diagnosed at age 7, Carly received two years of treatment at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York. That’s when Friends of Karen met Carly and her family.
As hoped, Carly went into remission. “That was the happiest time of my life; everything seemed so normal again,” Carly says. “Unfortunately the good times only lasted three years. I began feeling ill again in 2008 and on December 2nd I found out that I had relapsed.”
Once again Friends of Karen stepped in, helping pay bills, providing emotional support, sending an art therapist to their home once a week for Carly and her younger sister Julianna. Social worker Rhonda Ryan went “above and beyond” to help the family function as normally as possible while Carly underwent an intensive second round of chemo.
“When you’re going back and forth to the hospital, you’re just not home, you’re so far behind in everything,” says Lisa. One day, for instance, Rhonda called when Lisa was in the backyard. “It was such a beautiful day,” recalls Lisa, “and Carly was having a good day, too. I felt terrible. I hadn’t been in the yard to clean up and I had to tell the kids not to touch things, they were so dusty.”
Rhonda heard how overwhelmed Lisa was. She made a few calls and told Lisa: “Help is on the way.”
“The whole community came!” says Lisa. “I had politicians in my yard. The local hardware store donated supplies. I think Friends of Karen can do pretty much everything.”
Still, setbacks kept coming. Carly needed platelets one day only to be told the hospital had none.
“When you’re told there’s no blood for her, it’s just devastating,” says Lisa. “It’s not like you can just come back tomorrow.”
The experience offered Lisa an answer to Carly’s hardest question –if everything happens for a reason, why this cruel relapse?
Carly and Lisa decided to work with the New York Blood Center to organize a blood and marrow drive to help other patients who critically needed improved supplies. Carly herself was not a candidate for marrow transplant, but she wanted to help friends in a similar hard-to-match category.
“Carly is half Italian and half Puerto Rican,” explains Lisa. “If you’re mixed race, it’s harder to find a bone marrow match. ”
To help draw a crowd to the blood drive at Christ the King Regional High School in Middle Village, Queens, Carly’s godfather Benjy Estevez, Jr., -- a professional boxing referee – invited boxing celebrities. Posters helped bring in crowds and build awareness, especially among Latinos, African-Americans, and other groups under-represented in local blood banks.
The good news: the publicity paid off! The event drew 262 blood donors and 57 bone marrow donors. It was a life-saving bounty, since each pint of blood can benefit three patients in need.
“Carly thinks of all these little faces, her friends from the hospital. I said: this is the good that’s going to come of this nightmare. Something more will come, but this is our foot in the door.”
Carly’s family also donated cash proceeds from the bake sale at the event, over $4,200, to Friends of Karen.
How Can You Help? Join Carly in her efforts to help other critically-ill children and their families. Please consider a donation to Friends of Karen today.
To donate blood, get swabbed for a marrow match, or organize a blood drive, please call the New York Blood Center directly at 1-800-933-2566, or visit www.nybloodcenter.org.