It became clear that something was wrong, but it would be almost three years before he received a diagnosis of aplastic anemia. The condition occurs when the body stops producing enough new blood cells and leaves you feeling fatigued and with a higher risk of infections and uncontrolled bleeding.
“I missed school a lot,” said Jason. “I’d get tired a lot and would need to take naps throughout the day.” Pretty much everything he was into he was no longer allowed to do. No sports. He became an indoors kid.
At 14, Jason’s platelet counts fell dangerously low and he was immediately put on a bone marrow transplant list. Shortly after his transplant, his doctor and social worker at Children’s Hospital LA referred him to Make-A-Wish.
During his treatment, Jason thought a lot about his wish, which kept his spirits up. He is a “New Year’s baby” – born January 1, 2000 – and he dreamed of visiting New York City to see the ball drop on his birthday. He saw it as the finish line after an eight-year battle and an incredible way to celebrate his 18th birthday, reflect on his journey and look positively to the future.
The highlight of the trip was New Year’s Eve in Times Square including a behind the scenes tour of the famous mirrored ball, but they were mostly surprised with the lightness they felt as a family. “We were having dinner for his birthday when it really clicked, the purpose of the trip,” said Rex. “For a week we forgot that he was sick.”
Since 2000, the Long Beach Polar Bears have raised $6.3 million from their annual Super Bowl Splash to grant the wishes of children with critical illnesses!
The Polar Bears are motivated by a touch of madness, camaraderie and a common goal: to honor the memory of Paulie Bradley and to keep his young spirit alive in others.
We sat down with Pete Meyers, one of the founding members of the Long Beach Polar Bears, to learn how a simple idea turned into a community fundraising powerhouse.
Q: Tell me how two guys deciding to jump into the ocean in February turned into a $6.3 million community fundraiser.
A: Kevin McCarthy and I were friends and neighbors in Long Beach, Long Island. We were talking one day about doing the New Year’s Day jump with the Coney Island Polar Bears, but I couldn’t make it that year. So, we decided to do our own jump on Super Bowl Sunday down at our beach. It was great, and we decided to make it a tradition. We mentioned it to our other neighbors and the following year 18 people showed up. I made sweatshirts with polar bears on them for fun. That year, Mike and Patty Bradley, also neighbors, asked if we could turn the jump into a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish in honor of their son Paulie, who had recently died of leukemia at the age of 4. Patty loved the sweatshirts and thought we could sell them and donate the proceeds. We immediately said yes. Why? Because that’s what Long Beach neighbors do. They help each other. They support each other. It’s a very tight-knit community.
Q: But how did it grow from a neighborhood outing to a massive community event?
A: At first it was literally just our friends. Then their friends started showing up. It grew through word of mouth. This was before there was social media. It was just friends telling friends, neighbors telling neighbors. Long Beach is a very special community. People take care of each other. When someone says, “I’m doing a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish. Will you support me?” they do.
The first year as a fundraiser about 40 people showed up and we raised $7,800, enough to grant one wish (in those days). In no time, hundreds of people were showing up.
The New Year is a time of renewal and trimming excess. A great way to streamline your life is to consider monthly giving rather than an end of year donation scramble. Monthly giving is a scheduled financial donation given to the cause you care about – you set it and forget it – all while making a difference.
Visible life improvements include: