It’s been said that you can’t pay anyone back for what has happened to you, but you can try to find someone to whom you can pay it forward. Cyndi Poeggel and her daughter, Jackie, now 7, are paying it forward and touching lives in many different ways. They believe that the person you help today may be the person you thank tomorrow
When I first met Cyndi, she was one of the coordinators at the Swabs for Julianna bone marrow drive, held this past November at the Farmingville Firehouse. Cyndi was there, paying it forward to Julianna Buttner, because she can’t pay back the anonymous donor who saved her daughter Jackie’s life. More than 2,400 people waited patiently on line to have their cheek swabbed in the hope that they would be the match for 6-year-old Julianna. “We broke the national record,” Cyndi says proudly of the Farmingville drive.
Jackie was only 3 years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia (AML), an adult form of the disease that is rarely seen in children. She went through months of cancer treatments, but just one year later it struck again, this time worse than her first bout. Jackie needed a bone marrow transplant to live.
“I can’t tell you how many bone marrow extractions Jackie had,” Cyndi says sadly. At the time there were no suitable donors in the national bone marrow registry, but as fate would have it, Jackie received an unrelated cord blood donation that saved her life.
Even at Jackie’s young age, she saw and felt the love that was pouring out from the Lindenhurst community, and expressed to her mother her desire to help other people.
With Jackie as her inspiration, Cyndi, along with her friends Joann Delgado and Joann Wilner, founded Pay It Forward With Jackie (PIFWJ), a nonprofit that works in conjunction with other agencies to do charitable deeds in the community. Cyndi says that the pay-it-forward concept is all Jackie’s idea. “As long as she helps others, she feels better,” Cyndi says. PIFWJ is a 100 percent volunteer organization and all donations are distributed locally.
The main focus of the organization is to coordinate bone marrow drives through DKMS Americas, the largest bone marrow donor center in the world. “We’re like a middle man. We bridge the gap and we help get more [local] volunteers. We evaluate who goes to what station and we talk to the [donors],” says co-founder Joann Delgado.
Cyndi works exclusively with DKMS and says, “DKMS did the drive for my daughter. They don’t mandate that you pay $65 [the usual fee for a swab test]. We don’t want everybody to feel pressured.”
PIFWJ has helped coordinate nine bone marrow drives since 2008 and says that through all of Jackie’s efforts she’s had one “lifesaver,” a matched donor that goes through the entire process. “Three out of 10 people who search the registry will find their lifesaving match,” Cyndi says. As a result of a match from a PIFWJ drive, a young boy received his life saving stem cell transplant. “To us, one is phenomenal,” Cyndi says.
PIFWJ is trying to make people aware that a bone marrow drive is initially just getting your cheek swabbed, and their mission is to make it as commonplace as donating blood. “Swabs for Julianna helped decrease people’s fears,” Cyndi says. “You are only getting your cheek swabbed; it’s nothing invasive and you’re not making a commitment.”
PIFWJ has now registered almost 4,000 people in the national registry through DKMS. If you are a potential match, Cyndi says that you’ll get called back for a physical and blood work. “It’s a lot of planning for a drive,” she says. “When you come to us we get it together.”
Jackie still can’t attend public school because of her weak immune system, and now has GVHD, a secondary disorder that can affect someone who has received a bone marrow transplant. Because of Jackie’s condition, Cyndi, who has two other daughters, 14 and 17, cannot go back to work yet.
“I am still depending on the generosity of others,” she says of the reason she is always coordinating some kind of charity event or drive. PIFWJ is now in the process of collecting hygiene kits that will be shipped to Haiti.
“I want to be able to live with myself,” Cyndi says. “This is my payback. I am so happy that I am able to pay it forward to others who have and continue to help my family in so many different ways.
“I don’t think that many really understand the concept of paying it forward or that their gesture does not have to be anything grand. No act is too small and all acts are greatly appreciated.”
Registering as a bone marrow donor is a commitment to help anyone in need, click here for complete information.
Save a Heart and Save a Life Bone Marrow Drive and Food Collection
Brentwood UFSD is hosting Long Island’s first fully dedicated Bone Marrow drive for minorities. Become a Lifesaver!
Friday, March 12th from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Brentwood Union Free School District
Anthony F. Felicio Administrative Building – Meeting Room
52 Third Avenue, Brentwood, NY 11717
Potential Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 55 and in good general health.
Did You Know?
• Leukemia is the most common disease children die of in the U.S.
• Hispanic children suffer at a higher rate of leukemia than children of any other ethnic group in the U.S.
• There is a shortage of Latino’s and other ethnic minorities in the National Bone Marrow Registry
• African Americans only have a 60 percent likelihood of finding at least one potential match in comparison with 85 percent of all Caucasian patients
• Only 30 percent of patients will find a donor match within their family
For more information go to www.PayItForwardWithJackie.org.
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