CHATHAM, NJ - While most are still trying to assist others against the coronavirus, in the Chathams, district residents are teaming together to help another face a different enemy.
For the morning and afternoon, Saturday at Chatham High School, a drive-through bone marrow screening has held for a special little girl. Her name is Jackie Erb, the five-year-old daughter of Chatham High’s special education teacher Brian Erb and his wife, Lauren Gonnella, and of whom has been diagnosed with JMML, a rare form of leukemia.
The event was organized by the School District of the Chathams and the Chatham Education Association PRIDE committee (CEA). Both organizations also partnered with Be The Match as an event sponsor.
“When I heard of this need, I was immediately drawn to my computer to research and find an organization to do a drive,” said Candace Hull, from Basking Ridge, who has worked as an art teacher at the high school for the past eight years.
“I get 200 emails a day, with over 60 volunteers to help the day of, directing traffic, taking payments, etc. It is a tremendous outpouring of love and support.”
This love and support was given by countless attendants who drove to the high school to become Jackie’s match. The CEA had a set goal of collecting 500 tests, but to their astonishment, before the day was out, they ran out of test kits and had to order in more. The CEA then extended the screening to the late evening when it was supposed to end around 2:00 p.m.
In the end, 1,100 test kits were distributed in person at Chatham High, while more test kits were ordered online, bringing the total to 2088!
“I’m overwhelmed by the response and the fact that it’s so well-organized,” said volunteer Katrina Keeshen, from Madison, who is a teacher at Chatham Middle School.
“I’m praying we will have a match for Jackie or any other person in need. That’s the ultimate reward.”
Participants stayed within their vehicle as they were given test kits and self-administered a cheek swab to check their eligibility as a match. The cheek swab was free for donors ages 18-44 due to the higher success rate from donors in this age range. For those over age of 45, the cost is $100, which would be paid by the individual or by the Gonella-Erb family.
“It’s amazing to see all of this,” said Springfield donor Anne Sherbatuk, who decided to see if she could be Jackie’s match.
“I have little ones myself, so I would do this for them as I would hope others would. It’s a simple thing to do. I could be the one.”
The Erb Family themselves were brought to tears when hearing how determined people from their home community and other surrounding districts were in saving their daughter’s life.
“We are eternally grateful,” Brian Erb said.
“My colleagues have been amazing and so has the Chatham Education Association, the superintendent and the high school. We couldn’t be any more grateful, knowing everyone has our backs. If you love well, you get loved well in return. Me and my family love the community. I love my students. And sometimes that returns well.”
For those who could not attend but still wish to support the Erb family, test kits are available for home delivery upon request from Be the Match. There are two ways to access a kit, including going to https://join.bethematch.org/TeamJackie and registering, and texting “teamjackie” (all one word) to 61474.
And to learn more about Be The Match, and how to get involved, visit their website at https://join.bethematch.org/s/landing?language=en_US&ref=marrow17&utm_campaign=bone_marrow_match&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=google&utm_content=bonemarrowmatch&gclid=CjwKCAiAxeX_BRASEiwAc1Qdke9fINdJY0sA1KF9VJGJUg1t4FTP_V_Yl2exx-nxiGN_YSQS1oekshoCsBQQAvD_BwE.