Christian: Seven years ago, my younger sister was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called Hypoplastic Myelodysplastic Syndrome. This disease was causing my sister’s bone marrow to shut down. Basically, her bone marrow was not producing the proper amount of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, etc. This caused my sister to have a very weak immune system. The doctors said that if this disease was not treated in the next couple of months that it would turn into an untreatable form of leukemia and that my sister would pass away in less than a year. This was scary news for my family. My brother and I were only entering our freshman year high school and my sister was supposed to start middle school. It was a lot to handle as a young kid growing up. The doctors told my parents that my sister needed a bone marrow transplant in the next couple of months to prevent the disease from turning into the untreatable form of leukemia. We had two chances at saving my sisters life. My sister could not be put on a donor list because the waiting list was over a year. It would have been too long. The only chance we had at saving our sister’s life was either me or my brother.
Ryan: Being fraternal twins was a blessing in disguise as it increased the odds of finding a match for my sister. Christian and I would argue about who was going to be a match, both wanting to be the one to donate our bone marrow. After being tested we waited for the results. On August 23, 2010, Melina’s 11th birthday, we got the phone call. I was sitting in the den watching television when my mom came in crying. She barely got out the words, “You are a perfect match.” According to the doctors, I could not have been a better match in terms of the criteria they look for when conducting a transplant. That is by far the greatest blessing I have ever received.
Ryan: Given the severity of Melina’s illness, and her rapidly declining health, the doctors moved things along rather quickly. The preparation for the transplant meant many trips to the hospital, Colombia Presbyterian, and lots of check-ups and tests. I remember the doctors trying to explain to me how the procedure worked, and I just cut them off and said, “I don’t care what you need to do. You can cut me here, stitch me there, I don’t care. Just do whatever it takes.” The doctors were shocked, but I meant it. I would have given anything to save my sister’s life. The thought of losing her terrified me.
Ryan: Melina was admitted to the hospital two weeks before the scheduled transplant date. In order to receive the bone marrow, she needed to go through an intensive treatment of chemotherapy to wipe her body clean of all her cells. She stayed in isolation at the hospital during this period, and remained there for a month after the transplant. While my parents were in the hospital with my sister, Christian and I held things down at home. My job leading up to the transplant was to stay healthy, as any impairment to health would make me unable to donate. This forced me to sit out my freshman football season. It was a critical season for me as I was on pace to win the starting quarterback position, but a sacrifice I would make 1000 times over.
Ryan: The transplant took place on September 28, 2010. My sister returned home from the hospital earlier than expected, just before Halloween. We had a crowd of people waiting outside the house to welcome her home. She was so surprised and excited to see everybody. She greeted them through the big window in the front of our home. She could not embrace them with hugs and kisses. Doing so would compromise her health. You see, the doctors describe the transplant as a “rebirth.” Effectively, my sister had the immune system of a newborn baby. Therefore, everything in the house had to be sterile, no visitors were allowed, and if one of us got sick were had to go live at grandma’s for the time being.
Ryan: When my sister was in the hospital, my brother and I were sheltered from the reality of her medical condition. To be honest, I didn’t realize how hard she had it until she came home and I witnessed firsthand the battle she was up against. The medicine took such a large toll on her physically. Yet, no matter how much pain she was in physically, she never let it affect her mentally. Her attitude was always positive, and even more amazing, selfless. When the doctors told her that she was going to lose all her hair due to the chemotherapy, the first question out of her mouth was, “Can I donate it?” When she was attached to her IV pole used for many of her medications, she named it “Polina” which led to lots of jokes and laughs. Melina even taught herself how to play guitar by watching YouTube videos. She always had a smile on her face.
Christian: My sister had experienced some of the most traumatizing events a person could face, yet she stayed positive throughout it all. I seriously mean this. She was always smiling. She would joke about herself being bald, she taught herself how to play guitar watching YouTube videos in the hospital and even wrote a song about her medical journey. It was puzzling to see a kid be so happy even though they are aware that they could die at a young age.
Ryan: Things were going great until October 2013. Hurricane Sandy was crashing down on the shores of Long Island. I woke up to find that my sister and father weren’t home. Pretty odd. I asked my mom what was going on, and she explained that Melina had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night. Later testing would reveal she suffered two strokes that night, as my sister was diagnosed with CNS Vasculitis. All the medication she was on from the bone marrow transplant caused the blood vessels in her brain to narrow, making her susceptible to strokes. In all she has had five strokes.
Ryan: This new condition led my parents to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for treatment. This treatment required high doses of steroids, which resulted in extreme weight gain. There was nothing my sister could do about it, as these medications were keeping her alive, yet my sister was viciously bullied over the internet. I never saw her so upset throughout her entire journey. It infuriated me that people could be so ruthless and hurtful, but it was Melina who calmed me down and told my whole family to shake it off. Since then her treatments have gone down, and she still visits CHOP for checkups.
Christian: In the summer going into my sister’s senior year of high school, my sister got the best news of her life. My sister had her monthly check up at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I sat in on this appointment with my mom and dad. When the appointment was over the doctor said to my sister, “Melina where are you thinking of going to college.” My sister replied “I think I am going to stay local and go to community college so I am close to home.” My sister hated answering this question because it upset her that she couldn’t go away to school like her friends. The doctor responded, “I think you should go away to school, you only get to go to college once.” My parents, sister, and I all looked at each other confused and my sister responded, “What do you mean? How would that work?” The doctor replied, “What if you went to a school near here so that way you can go away to college and also be close to the hospital in case of an emergency” My sisters face lit up when the doctor said this. She was so excited. She went home after that trip and started researching schools near Philadelphia. After a couple of months of searching my sister was dissatisfied. She couldn’t find a school that she wanted to go to.
Christian: Eventually around November my sister told my family the truth. She said, “The only school I want to go to is Villanova. That is the one school I truly love. It feels like home already because we always visit the boys and it would be great to have them there one year as I make the transition. The only reason why I didn’t tell you guys is because I know we don’t have any money to send me there.” My parents were heartbroken. They felt so bad because they wanted the best for daughter. She had been through so much in her short life and they wanted her to have the same opportunity as my brother and I. My parents felt that she shouldn’t be treated differently just because they didn’t have the money to send her there.
Ryan: I hope you can understand just how much this scholarship means to me. My family truly believes that every penny counts. So on behalf of my family and myself, thank you. I eagerly await the day that I can pay your gift forward, and make a difference in someone else’s life the way you have made a difference in mine.
Ryan: As you can imagine, my sister’s medical history has taken a significant financial toll on my family. My dad was forced to take time away from his business, while my mom continued her teaching job in order to keep the health insurance. Not to mention my sister was diagnosed right in the middle of a complete renovation of our home. Thus, when it came time for my brother and I to decide on a school, financial aid significantly influenced our decision. My parents maxed out on debt, opening a home equity line of credit, so my brother and I could attend Villanova. They put the house’s money on us and our success, knowing that Villanova will provide us with tremendous opportunities.
Ryan: Fast-forward to this past May. The decisions from Villanova came out. My brother and I were on the phone with my family at home. Melina clicked on the link and the celebratory “Congratulations” video roared in my ear. I immediately started to cry, thanking God for continuing to amaze me, and reflecting on all that my sister has overcome. It was an amazing moment.
Christian: We were all so happy for her, but now we were thinking of how we could get my sister scholarships to pay for school. We were hoping to hit a home run and receive a full scholarship from one of the many she has applied for. We thought that with my sister’s story and all that she has accomplished that someone or some foundation might award her. She tried the Villanova Presidential scholarship, but got denied. All that was left were partial scholarships. She was blessed and received two partial scholarships. Our family was grateful to receive these gifts, but in hindsight this is only accounted for $10,000 out of the $250,000 that it is going to cost to put my sister through school. Hopefully she can find a way to get more scholarships.
Ryan: I share this story with you because it has had a tremendous impact on my life. My sister is by far my role model. My younger sister is the person I look up to. The courage, positivity, and selflessness she has displayed over the course of her life is truly admirable. When Melina got sick, I realized how precious life is. It was a humbling moment for me, so humbling that it brought me to my knees by my bedside one night, as I sobbed out to God for help. It was in that moment my relationship with the Lord began. I have Him and my sister to thank for all of my blessings.
Ryan: My sister taught me to never make excuses and never give up. I wanted to be as successful as I could in all that I did so that she could relish in it with me. I saw how her illness handicapped her life, and I made a promise to myself to live my life for her. Every test I aced, every touchdown I threw, every homerun I hit, every award I received all of it was for her. She is the reason why I chose to attend Villanova. I wanted to go to a Catholic school because of the faith I found through her, where I could chase my dream of becoming a professional baseball player, while lining myself up for a career on Wall Street if I come up short on the diamond. I have always been driven and motivated, but she has allowed me to soar to new heights.
Christian: My family is so thankful for every contribution that is made to us. We appreciate every gift that we get. That is why we are very appreciative that my brother and I were awarded the Blue White scholarship. Every donation helps are we are humbled to have donors like you in our lives. My family is in a hard time right now, but when we make it out of our rut, we will definitely give back. It is our duty to give to those in need. I will make sure I specifically donate back to this foundation because you went out of your way to help lessen my family’s financial burden. It has greatly impacted my family and I want to put smiles on other families faces when they are in a time of need by helping them out. We all need to help each other. That is what life is about.
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A Tribute to Bob Capone
January 2, 2015
The Blue White Scholarship Foundation Named "2017 Top-Rated Nonprofit" by GreatNonprofits