When Offramp Gallery artists Megann Zwierlein and Quinton Bemiller welcomed their third beautiful, healthy daughter into the world earlier this year, the mood was celebratory and life was good. The family was thriving. Baby Violet was perfection. Oldest daughter Lillie, 6, was about to complete first grade and was excited to have been chosen as a Princess in the local Camelia Festival. Middle child Jade had started pre-school and was loving it. She was a perfectly normal four-year-old, except for the occasional pains in her leg, which her parents and doctor dismissed as growing pains.
Just about the time baby Violet turned two months old, Jade woke up one morning at 3am crying because her leg was hurting. Nothing would ease the pain so Megann and Quinton took her to the doctor. X-rays were taken to see if there was a fracture to her bone. Nothing showed up on the x-rays and the doctor told them to continue to give her over-the-counter children's pain medication.
When Jade was still crying at 5pm, Megann and Quinton took her to the emergency room where more blood was taken. This time the blood test came back slightly abnormal. They were told that Jade was having most likely having residual effects from an earlier viral infection, causing the pain in her leg and the mild anemia that her blood test indicated. She was given a stronger pain medication and finally fell asleep.
But the pain in her leg persisted. If she was supposed to have her pain medication every four hours, she was crying at three hours. Two days later, she was taken back to the doctor and more blood was taken. This time they were told that Jade had severe anemia and iron supplements were prescribed. Given Jade's healthy diet, Megann and Quinton were certain something more serious than anemia was wrong and took matters into their own hands.
Quinton took the numbers from Jade's full blood work-up and did an internet search. He wasn't happy with the results. According to his amateur research, the numbers all pointed to something serious that was causing her bone marrow not to function properly. They called the doctor again, who, sensing their concern, referred them to Children's Hospital, where more blood work and a grueling full-body bone scan were done.
As soon as the tired and worried family returned home from that first visit to Children's Hospital, they got a phone call saying there was abnormal activity in Jade's left femur and that she needed a blood transfusion ASAP. They rushed back to the hospital, where Jade was admitted as a patient. By this time, she was lethargic, wasn't eating, wouldn't walk and her lips were the same pale color as her face. She was going downhill fast.
After the transfusion, bone marrow extraction and other tests, the family spent a restless night at the hospital. And then finally, after another excruciating day of waiting, a diagnosis: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Jade would need extensive treatment including two and a half years of chemotherapy. The news was almost more than the parents could absorb. Megann describes feeling like she had been "hit by a ton of bricks" and that everything seemed surreal. She and Quinton both felt like they were living someone else's life. The anxiety and disbelief were overwhelming.
Jade drops off a self portrait (with hair) that she painted for the benefit exhibition
Megann and Quinton do not have private health insurance. Quinton is a part-time teaching artist and Megann is a stay-at-home mom/artist. The girls' health care is covered by the State of California for now, but if Quinton's salary increases or Megann goes back to work, they will most likely find themselves in the unenviable position of losing state coverage and having to buy private insurance, to say nothing of paying for childcare for three kids.
The good news is that ALL is now the most treatable form of childhood leukemia, with about an 80% survival rate (as opposed to 0% 40 years ago). Jade has finished her first round of chemotherapy, or induction, and is now officially in remission. But she still has a long way to go, including two more years of chemotherapy with the inherent risks of infection, side-effects and a compromised immune system.
Meanwhile, news of the diagnosis spread fast. Everyone wanted to help. Offramp Gallery was scheduled to be closed in July and August, so it was a perfect time to have a benefit exhibition. I sent out a call to Offramp artists and they responded enthusiastically, happy to have a chance to help. Word spread and by the time we opened the doors at the opening reception last Sunday, we had 115 donated works of art from 75 artists.
Food, drink and advertising were also donated. We had full-time volunteer help for the five days it took to put the exhibition together (thanks again everyone!). So far we've raised about $5,000 in art sales, silent auction bids and donations -- more than half from artists buying other artists' work. The exhibition continues through the closing reception on Sunday, July 31 and we hope to add significantly to the amount of money raised by that time.
Click here for a website devoted to Jade's fight where you can contribute money, keep track of her progress and learn more about leukemia.