BARNEGAT, NJ – Today’s national headlines don’t exactly place the country’s most popular ride-sharing service in the most favorable light. On a local level, it’s news of a different kind. Jacqueline Zimmerman of Manahawkin drives for Uber around her children’s schedule. Two separate rides led Jacqueline to spearhead a campaign to help what was then a dying young man’s family.
Sadly, Barnegat High School student Nazir LaBoy left this earth as the month of December started. His viewing, funeral, and repass were Saturday race and Peace Church, . in Toms River.
“I was laid off from insurance sales,” explained Zimmerman. “I’m a single mom with two children and decided I’d try driving for Uber while my kids were in school or with their dad.”
Not everyone understands precisely how ridesharing services work. People who need rides request them through a smartphone application. Drivers receive notifications about the requests and also use technology to reply. In this case, Zimmerman accepted an offer for a pick-up in Barnegat. When she arrived at the address, a young man came out to the car.
“I was concerned because he looked like he was young,” Zimmerman explained. “As drivers, we’re instructed not to ask the age of passengers. However, we’re also not supposed to transport minors. I asked if he was alone.”
Nazir, a healthy-looking and handsome young man climbed into the back seat of Zimmerman’s car. He assured the Uber driver that his mother was on her way out. At this point, Zimmerman hadn’t checked to see where the three of them were headed.
“When she came to the car, the mom immediately asked me if she could sit in the front seat,” said Zimmerman. “Tamika told me that she gets carsick.”
During their 45 minutes together, Zimmerman chatted up a storm with Tamika. Their destination turned out to be the Voorhees location for CHOP (The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.). Nazir didn’t look sick, but appearances meant nothing in this case. Battling both lymphoma and leukemia, Nazir needed treatment.
Tamika LaBoy moved to Barnegat with her children four years ago. Her daughter, Destiny, attended Barnegat High School. Currently, her youngest child Yazir Benton is a fourth-grader at the Dunfee School.
Nazir didn’t start out in the Barnegat school district when Tamika first relocated. Instead, he lived temporarily with his uncle and even started high school in Jackson. Nazir was a running back for Jackson Liberty’s football team. He transferred to Barnegat High School midyear.
“He made the Barnegat team,” shared Tamika. “However, it was before the start of the season that we learned that he was sick.”
Initially, Nazir complained of problems with urination. Southern Ocean County Medical Center (SOCH) recognized the issues needed immediate attention and rushed him to Jersey Shore Medical Center. They diagnosed Nazir with non-Hodgins' lymphoma.
Tamika thinks of Jersey Shore Medical as more of a trauma center than equipped to deal with childhood oncology. She credits them for doing their best for Nazir during his month stay. Tamika advocated for her son, who was ultimately transferred to CHOP. There, they learned that Nazir also suffered from leukemia.
At the time, Tamika worked as a bus aide for R&D Transportation. A single mother, she needed the income. However, her son came first. Meanwhile, she describes her bosses as “awesome, wonderful, and understanding.” They’ve made her feel as though she has a job when she wants to return.
Tamika missed quite a bit of work. Nazir started a series of treatments at CHOP’s Voorhees location. Tamika didn’t drive and insisted that her son’s condition warranted that he be alone. He didn’t need to risk exposure from other sick people. The insurance company complied. And, that’s how Zimmerman first met Nazir and his mom.
“I actually took them over to Voorhees twice,” Zimmerman said. “During the last time, Tamika told me he was going to get tested to see if he was in remission.”
On May 9, 2019, Tamika got what seemed to be good news. Quite appropriately, it was Nazir’s birthday. He was in remission. Tamika, who tested as a match, would soon donate her bone marrow to her son.
The doctors scheduled the transplant for September 25, 2019. However, a week before, Nazir became sick and was diagnosed with food poisoning. From there, it went downhill. Nazir spent most of September, October, and November in the hospital.
The Monday before Thanksgiving, Zimmerman was out doing Uber runs. She was in the Manchester area when the phone app notified her that she had a “long ride of over 45 minutes.” Zimmerman accepted the request, hoping it would mean heading south towards her home.
An older couple waited for her as she pulled up to the curb. The lady carried a suitcase, and her husband hung up some hangers in the back. Zimmerman assumed they were heading to the airport.
“The woman asked if she could sit in the front seat,” said Zimmerman. “She said she gets carsick.” In hindsight, it seemed like something the Uber driver heard before.
Zimmerman pushed the button to start the ride and saw that her destination was CHOP at their Philadelphia location. She proceeded on her way and began a conversation with her front-seat passenger.
“In a shaky voice, the woman explained that her daughter called to tell her grandson was not doing well,” Zimmerman shared. “The doctors told her that he would not make it through the night.”
A mother herself, Zimmerman, did her best to comfort the grandmother as they took the solemn trip together. As they chatted, she just happened to mention that her grandson’s story sounded so similar to a young man she drove from Barnegat.
When their eyes met, the truth became evident. It was the same family. “I was driving Nazir’s grandmother to say goodbye to him.”
The experience impacted Zimmerman. What were the chances that she’d encounter the same family? She felt helpless, sad, and driven to do something far more than anyone could do from behind the wheel of a car.
Five days ago, Zimmerman created a GoFundme page for Naz The Fighter. Over 140 donors have contributed what they could to help the family with final services and household expenses.
Here, in Barnegat, Nazir’s diploma will be awarded posthumously. “We had and have all our counselors on hand for any of our students dealing with this loss,” said Barnegat High School Principal Stephen J. Nichol.
Barnegat Schools also participated in a dress down day to raise funds for the family to cover the cost of the funeral and repass. Four Barnegat students will serve as pallbearers at Nazir’s funeral.
“Nazir never wanted a birthday party,” shared Tamika. “This was the first year he was going to let me give him one. Instead, we’ll be getting together for his Going Home Service.”
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.