Ten years of giving

Cheryl died in 2002 but her legacy will be celebrated, as it was in this 2008 photo (above), at the Gift of Life fundraiser on March 6 at the Ram’s Head Inn.

One of the greatest challenges a person can experience is thediagnosis of a life-threatening disease. For the patient and thefamily, it’s a moment of sadness, helplessness and oftenconfusion.

But sometimes this challenge leads to great expressions of loveand support. This Saturday, March 6, the Shelter Island communitywill renew its love and support at the 10th annual “CherylHannabury Celebration of Life Community Cocktail Party at the Ram’sHead Inn. The event will raise money to aid patients withlife-threatening diseases, help expand the bone marrow registry andcommemorate the start of the organization’s 10th year.

As both a recipient of help from the Shelter Island communityand a founding member of the Gift of Life Foundation, CherylHannabury was well aware of the power and importance of thissupport.

When she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma just a fewdays before Christmas in 1992, she lacked health insurance. Butthrough the generous help of the Presbyterian Church andfundraising efforts from the Shelter Island community, Ms.Hannabury was able to pay for two bone marrow transplants, bothvery costly procedures.

She organized a meeting on January 15, 2001 with Bill and CaseyHannabury, Kathy King, Ed and Cheryl Brown, James and Linda Eklund,and Sarah Shepherd to create an organization to help people copewith life-threatening illnesses like her own. With the help of somegenerous donations, the Gift of Life became a non-profit 501c(3)foundation just a few weeks later.

“Helping others was Cheryl’s dream, said her mother, CharlotteHannabury. “That’s why she began this, so that others could behelped just as she was helped along the way.

Although she lost her battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in2002, her dream lives on through the continued work of the IslandGift of Life Foundation, which now serves patients in Southold,Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island.

The foundation is comprised of an all-volunteer team ofinsurance and medical professionals, social workers, clergy and anumber of other community members from different fields. Since itsinception, the foundation has distributed nearly a quarter of amillion dollars in direct grants to 27 people.

But those figures don’t fully account for all that theorganization has accomplished, which is more difficult to quantify.For example, members of the foundation negotiate directly withdoctors, hospitals and insurance providers to gain reducedtreatment charges for a patient, and help guide patients throughthe maze of health-care costs to make sure they receive whatthey’re entitled to. The expert Medical Advisory Committee can helpdirect patients through the often difficult process of finding theright doctors.

The president of the Island Gift of Life Foundation, JamesEklund, explained “It’s bad enough to be sick, but when you’re allof a sudden faced with all this red tape about who’s covering what,where the money’s coming from, and asking, ¹”amI entitled to something that I’m not getting,’ ¦ Toknow that somebody else is looking into that is a big comfort.

Patients can also receive free or cost-reduced transportation toget medical attention or receive bone marrow transplants -transportation is often an expensive necessity, since donors can bethousands of miles away. The foundation continues to work to expandthe bone marrow registry, too, by sponsoring blood drives andencouraging those who participate to get tested for a bone-marrowmatch.

The organization tries to accommodate as many of the patients’needs as possible. For instance, it gave a child with a rare bonedisease transportation to Boston Children’s Hospital, arranged withthe hospital to lower an outstanding bill, and then paid a largeportion of that bill. The Gift of Life helped a severelydebilitated patient with multiple sclerosis by applying fordisability insurance, arranging for frequent custodial visits tothe home, installing a Med Alert system and renovating the house tomake it more accessible.

Dr. Frank Adipietro, a member of the Medical Advisory Committee,described the foundation’s services as “a comprehensive type ofmedical care, which is very unique.

But it’s not just the services that are so helpful to patientsin dire situations: “If people feel that somebody is willing toreach out to them and help them, it can change their lives. There’sa positive energy involved with this whole process. As a physician,I feel that’s very important for terminally ill patients andchronically ill patients.

Mr. Eklund agrees: “I think that’s one of the biggest things weoffer people, to let them know that there are people who areconcerned about them.

If you’d like to be one of those people, don’t miss the “CherylHannabury Celebration of Life Community Cocktail Party on March 6.It will feature live music, buffet, open bar and an auction run byKen Lewis. Tickets are $35 and available at Casey’s Nail Salon, theChequit Inn or from Gift of Life board members. All proceedsbenefit the foundation.

For more information, to donate or to get involved with the Giftof Life Foundation, call (631) 774-0110.