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Heartfelt response to area girl's battle with cancer
By Arthur Gregg Sulzberger
Journal Staff Writer
NARRAGANSETT - November 17, 2004 - When he first heard that his daughter Jackie was suffering from a rare and deadly form of cancer, Mike Tally wanted to focus on his daughter's health -- not the worrisome financial implications of her lengthy and complicated treatment plan.
Although the bulk of the cost of the bone marrow transplant and the hospital and pharmaceutical bills were covered by his health insurance plan, the financial blow would still be tremendous, doctors told Tally: "well into the six figures."
Almost a year later, supporters from Narragansett, elsewhare in the state and even around the country have raised around $120,000 to help Jackie and her family absorb the financial burden.
"It's just really amazing that people are so thoughtful," said Tally, a salesman, this week.
"I couldn't wish for anything more," said Jackie, typically upbeat, in September. "There are people around the country sending me things; I'm in prayers around the country. It makes me feel good."
Jackie, 17, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in February. The disease, an inability to produce healthy blood cells, which often leads to acute leukemia, is very rare and fatal without proper treatment.
After a surprisingly speedy recovery from a bone marrow transplant in August, Jackie's progress has faltered more recently. With her immune system yet to recover from the transplant and the accompanying chemotherapy, Jackie is extremely susceptible to even the mildest infections.
Just over a month ago Jackie returned to the hospital for aggressive treatment to handle a virus and several bacterial infections. This weekend, she returned to her home in Narragansett, where she lives with her father and stepmother, Fran, brother, Mike, and sister, Alyssa. Her mother, Carol Piccirilli, lives in Cranston. If Jackie continues to improve, she will still need to remain in near isolation in her home for close to a year as her immune system rebuilds.
"The doctors are very optimistic. The fact that she's home is a good thing," said Tally.
And while Jackie appears to be recovering from her scare, the many days in the hospital -- almost 75 said her father -- and countless medical procedures are adding up.
"Its been overwhelming, and it's a scary thing when they say its going to be approximately a half-million dollars, and a portion of that is not covered," said Tally, who has not yet received any bills. "We had to let go of that because it was making us crazy."
The financial and emotional support of Jackie's classmates, family friends and well-wishers from around the nation made forgetting the financial implications of Jackie's struggle much easier.
Jackie's classmates at The Prout School, where she is missing her senior year, have raised over $60,000.
"The kids have been amazing," said Tally. "Kids had everything from a pancake breakfast, which raised $1,000, to a softball tournament, which raised about $20,000."
And in a single evening, a fundraising dinner and auction put on by a family friend in September raised $40,000.
A broadcast fax sent by a colleague of Tally's to about 1,000 clients around the country brought in nearly $10,000 and countless cards.
"She, at one point, had about 300 cards up on her wall in the transplant room, and those cards were from everywhere," said Tally. "It's wonderful to have friends who support you, but to have so many people from all over the country to send cards, that's just been wild."
One of those cards came from a 12-year-old girl Jackie had never met; it included a $5 bill and an apology for not sending more.
Tally said he is thinking about running an advertisement in a local newspaper to thank the many people who have donated time and money to help his family.
"It's been completely overwhelming," he said. "I want to make sure everyone gets some recognition."
Tally said if there are any leftover funds, they will be divided among the Jimmy Fund, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Leukemia Society and Prout.
Updates on Jackie's condition can be found at her online journal at www.livejournal.com/users/tally04/
Donations can be made to The Prout School - Jackie Tally Fund, 4640 Tower Hill Rd., Wakefield, RI 02879, or online at www.thejackietallyfund.org