Girl with local ties out of remission and needing donors and donations

January 29, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY TONYA BRAMLAGE – Island postal contractor Tom Gardner is asking for assistance from our island community to help his daughter, Heather, in her fight with leukemia.

Two years ago the Boca Beacon featured Heather’s story when she was first diagnosed with a form of leukemia, in the summer of 2017, when she was in her junior year of high school. When Heather’s cancer treatment started, she experienced an adverse reaction to medication that caused her to have a stroke. Things were going downhill at a fast rate for the Gardner family, but Steve and Jill Kaplan, owners of Kappy’s Market, stepped up and worked together with Tom and other local businesses to raise money for Heather’s medical treatment and expenses.

A raffle for a two-night stay at the Boca Grande Resort, a three-day golf cart rental from Kappy Karts and a gift certificate to the Temptation Restaurant was a huge success. The funds that were raised went towards making the Gardner’s home handicap-accessible. Heather’s legs were affected when she suffered her stroke and mobility has been an ongoing issue ever since.

Unfortunately, Heather’s cancer has returned. She is undergoing chemotherapy treatments every day through a delivery system, via portable backpack. Tom and Beverly, Heather’s mother, are on the list for housing at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, where Heather will be undergoing bone marrow transplant surgery.

“Heather’s brother is the best match currently for bone marrow, but the doctors say that they are confident that a better match can be found using the donation data base,” said Tom.

Heather is battling an infection in her spine that is preventing her from being able to undergo surgery at this time. Once she is able to undergo the procedure, Heather will be in the hospital anywhere from three to nine weeks.

Going to and from the Golisano Children’s Hospital in Fort Myers daily takes a lot of time and energy. It is taking its toll on Heather, who tries to sleep in intervals – in the car to and from the hospital and in between appointments.

“I’m tired all of time,” she said. “I really miss hanging out with my friends.”

Heather turned 22 on November 16. While she didn’t have an in-person celebration, she was able to keep in touch with people on Facebook, FaceTime and Instagram. Beverly is her constant companion, and keeps Heather company during this difficult time of social and physical isolation.

The Gardners will need to relocate to Tampa for three months when Heather has her surgery, as they are required to be no more than 30 minutes away from the hospital.

“Beverly had to quit her job as a teacher this fall in order to be a full-time caregiver for Heather,” Tom said.

Tom will continue to work in Boca Grande, delivering the mail for the United States Post Office and commuting to Tampa to help relieve Beverly. Heather is enrolled at Florida Southwestern State College (FSW) and has taken a leave of absence from her medical office assistant studies.

Fundraising efforts are currently underway here locally in two ways. Donation sites have been set up at Kappy’s Market, Gilchrist Interiors, Newlin’s, Barnichol Hardware and Courtyard Hair Salon. These five local businesses are serving as community partners, providing sites for monetary donations. The Gardner family has also set up a gofundme account for Heather at gofundme.com where they have raised $1,425 toward their $10,000 goal to cover the immediate upfront expenses associated with Heather’s surgery. That website is gofundme.com/f/raising-money-for-heather-gardner-lukemia-2nd-time?qid=f6890b52cb23652ebe1945a0d436a395.

“If every person would donate as little as $1, Heather’s most pressing need for a handicap cart would be met”, said Tom.

Fundraising efforts will be ongoing until the end of April.