Community effort raises over $15,000 –
Story and photos by Patricia Beech –
For years Stephanie and Ryan Stephens knew that one day they would face the painful and unimaginable task of telling their two children that their mother was losing her battle with cystic fibrosis (CF) – a debilitating genetic condition that attacks the lungs and digestive system.
It was a conversation they both dreaded, one that any parent would rather avoid, but in the spring of 2016 Stephanie’s doctors warned her that without a double lung transplant there was nothing more they could do to save her life.
“It was difficult to sit the kids down and tell them the only chance for life was if I got new lungs,” Stephanie says. “We explained the transplant process, and we told them that there was a chance we might not make it to that point.”
Both Stephanie and her younger brother, Jared Sandlin, were diagnosed with CF when they were infants. Subsequently, their entire lives had revolved around visits to doctors and maintaining daily routines designed to keep their bodies healthy and viable. Jared succumbed to the disease at age 20 while waiting for a transplant.
Four years ago Stephanie’s CF began to progress, and her health began to fail.
In May 2016 she was placed on the donor recipients “active list” and began the long wait for a donor. The call came in November.
“I was in shock when they called, I couldn’t believe it was finally happening,” she said. “It wasn’t until later that we realized it was Nov. 19, the day of Jared’s funeral ten years ago.”
Three weeks later Stephanie was released from the Cleveland Clinic to reside in accommodations within an hour’s distance from the hospital. The transplant had been a success, her year-long recuperation had begun, and her medical expenses were continuing to add up.
The average cost for a double lung transplant is between $500,000 – $800,000, and while the Stephens family insurance was sufficient to cover the cost of Stephanie’s surgery, it did not cover her required accommodations or their frequent travel expenses to and from the Cleveland Clinic.
Jeni Schoonover, a family friend, was determined to find a way to help the family.
“They’re just a great family, and they needed just a little help,” Schoonover says. “ After the transplant they had a lot of expenses with medications, future appointments, blood work every two weeks, and trips back and forth to Cleveland where she has to stay for days at a time. We wanted to reach out to the community to try and help them.”
Schoonover contacted Amy Huffman-Swango, president of the Peebles Athletic Boosters, for help in organizing a benefit.
Within a matter of weeks Swango and Schoonover organized a Jan. 28 benefit for the family at Peebles High School to be held between the boys Reserve and Varsity basketball games with Clermont Northeastern.
With her family standing beside her, Stephens expressed her thanks to the crowd. “We are so humbled and grateful to call you all friends,” she said. “We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.”
The benefit concluded with local community members and residents from the Eastern Brown community raising over $15,600.
Stephens said she was surprised by the turn out and the community’s generosity.
“We are surrounded by such love and support,” she said. “God has blessed us with more than anyone could desire.”
According to Swango, the benefit’s silent auction produced $4,688 from the sale of over 120 items donated by individuals and businesses from Adams, Brown, and Highland Counties; T-Shirt sales and concession sales raised $4,613, and the live auction conducted by auctioneer Dean Brown raised $6,300.
“Stephanie Stephens Night was a huge success,” said Swango. “Jeni did an amazing job organizing the event and the Athletic Boosters were honored to be a part of it. Once again, Indian Nation, the community and area businesses were extremely generous and we couldn’t be more thankful. It was especially touching to have the support of Jeff Naylor and the Eastern Brown community as well. What a great night at PHS!”
The evening’s live auction donations and buyers included: A 1998 Lady Indians State Runners Up original T-Shirt signed by the players and donated by Dan and Sharon Schmitz was purchased for $500 by Jessica Johnson, Amy Smalley, Paula Armstrong, Valerie Gaines, and Lanelle Stump; The Eastern Brown Warriors cake donated by Jeff Naylor and Kathy Neu was purchased for $550 by Eastern Brown donors: Edward Jones – Maysville, Ron Lynch; Coach Rob and Veronica Beucler; Coach Kevin and Tiffany Pickerill and family; Coach Richard and Peggy Kiser; DeClaire Insurance; EHS Athletic Director Jared Jodrey; McIntosh Club Cattle; Youth Sports Official Jeff Naylor and Kathy Neu; Patriot Signs; U.S. American Veterans Wilmington Post; Buck and Janet Campbell; Coach Julie and Randy Brodt; Warrior Pride Anonymous Donors, and Malott Farms.
The Indian Nation cake, also donated by Jeff Naylor and Kathy Neu, was sold for $800 and purchased by Schmitz Technologies; Debbie Ryan and family; Dean Brown – Auctioneer; Larry and Gloria Ryan; Larry McFarland Towing; Lloyd’s Excavating; Peebles United Methodist Church; Dr. Dave and Jodi Parrett; Connie Lewis; Countyline Carry Out; Peebles Youth Basketball; Peebles Cheerleaders; Peebles Lady Indians Softball; and the Peebles Athletic Boosters. The cake was then resold for $200 to J.H. Robinson.
The CNE signed basketball was purchased for $50 by Andrew Seaman who donated it back to the CNE team. The Peebles team signed basketball sold for $2,450 and was purchased by: Schmitz Technologies; Debbie Ryan and family; Dean Brown – auctioneer; Larry and Gloria Ryan; Larry McFarland Towing; Lloyd’s Excavating; Peebles United Methodist Church; Dr. Dave and Jodi Parrett; Countyline Carry Out; Peebles Youth Basketball; Peebles Cheerleaders; Peebles Lady Indians Softball; Peebles Athletic Boosters; Carla Wesley; Diane LaCoste; and Steve “Moose” Brown.
A chest filled with primitive décor donated by the West Union Flower Shop was purchased by Justin and Sherry Rothwell for $1,250 than donated back and repurchased for $500 by Lloyd’s Excavating and Ty Pell, Surveyor.
The total raised during the live auction was $6,300.