BY TONYA BRAMLAGE – Our Boca Grande community continues to support Heather Gardner as she fights against cancer. Heather is eagerly awaiting her upcoming bone marrow surgery at Moffitt Hospital in Tampa. She is currently battling a spleen infection that is prohibiting her bone marrow transplant surgery that was previously scheduled for March 19, 2021.
Originally, Heather’s brother was deemed the best match for her transplant however doctors were able to locate a donor with a 100 percent match rate using the national donation data base.
“My brother has been by my side through everything. He even helps me get in to my bed at night,” Heather confided.
Heather is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments every day. Chemotherapy is administered through a delivery system via portable backpack. Heather eats, sleeps, travels, and bathes with it. The backpack is a constant presence and reminder of her ongoing battle. Once she is able to undergo the procedure, Heather will be hospitalized anywhere from three to nine weeks.
Heather’s parents, Tom and Beverly Gardner, have been able to temporarily relocate to Tampa while Heather is undergoing treatments. The Gardners are required to be no more than 30 minutes away from the hospital for the next three months. Tom will continue his commute each week to work here on the Island delivering the mail for the United States Post Office and then back to Tampa in order to relieve Beverly. “Beverly had to quit her job as a teacher this fall in order to be a full time caregiver for Heather,” Tom shared. It’s hard to fathom that it was only two years ago that Heather was first diagnosed with a form of leukemia. “Every day is filled with doctor’s visits, tests, and hospital reports,” says Beverly as she cares for her daughter’s daily needs.
Heather is enrolled at Florida Southwestern State College and has taken a leave of absence from her medical office assistant studies. She is looking forward to going back to school as early as this fall.
“Recovery takes a lot of energy and rest. I am going to do everything they tell me to do,” Heather conceded.
The scholarship committee at the Boca Grande Woman’s Club is committed to supporting Heather’s future academic pursuits.
“I had two siblings fight battles with cancer myself. I know from first hand experience what the hardship is like on the family,” offered Nell Cox.
Local fundraising efforts are currently underway, you can participate in two ways. Sites have been set up at Kappy’s Market, Gilchrist Interiors, Newlin’s, Barnichol Hardware, and Courtyard Hair. These five local businesses are serving as community partners providing locations for monetary donations. The Gardner family has also set up a gofundme account for Heather at gofundme.com.
Once you access the gofundme website, you can use the search function to find “Heather second battle with leukemia,” to donate.
In February, the Gardners happily reported that they received a private $5,000 donation towards wheelchair accessibility for Heather’s return home. “This donation will change how we do everything for Heather,” Tom said with great relief. The generosity and the community’s response has been overwhelming. Fundraising efforts will be ongoing through the end of April. The Gardners hope to raise $10,000 that will cover the most immediate expenses and needs associated with Heather’s surgery.
Heather misses the comfort of home.
“I’m really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed again,” she said.
She is extremely grateful for all the support she has received by her family, friends, and community. Heather knows that home is where not only her bed is, but her heart as well.