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Leukemia patient needs bone marrow

Jacquie Hirsch has long been clear in her ambition to teach children, encouraged by years of participation in her family's business, the Greater Buffalo Gymnastics Center in Amherst, where she grew up teaching other children.

But when the 22-year-old Geneseo State College student awoke on Sept. 28 feeling sick and with blurry vision, a subsequent medical diagnosis revealed she was suffering from acute lymphocytic leukemia, a form of cancer that now threatens her career ambitions -- and her life.

Hirsch needs a bone marrow transplant. The National Marrow Donor Program has scheduled a drive to find a possible match from 2 to 7 p.m. today in St. Leo the Great School on Sweet Home Road, between Maple Road and Sheridan Drive in Amherst.

"It's a fairly simple process that involves a cheek swab with a Q-Tip to collect cells," said Jacquie Hirsch's father, Torey. "It's like brushing your teeth."

But the ordeal Jacquie and her family have experienced since her diagnosis has been anything but simple.

In May, Jacquie Hirsch completed her classes for her degree in early childhood education at Geneseo, and was just two months shy of completing her student teaching when she was diagnosed with cancer.

The day Jacquie Hirsch woke up with blurry vision was the same day she received the diagnosis. Initially, she attributed her vision problem to her contact lenses, but after visiting the college health center, she was referred to an eye specialist who referred her to a hospital in Dansville for blood work.

"She had about 20 times the [normal] white blood cell count," Torey Hirsch said.

It turned out the deviation in Jacquie Hirsch's blood stream was causing clotting behind her retina, which was causing her blurred vision. Her mother, Sharon, drove to Dansville and rushed her daughter home, and she was admitted to Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Torey Hirsch said his daughter had been an outpatient at Roswell for several weeks, but has since been readmitted. While at Roswell, Jacquie Hirsch's family has said, she wasted no time getting to meet the children who are patients there, befriending them and engaging them in recreational activities as she walks miles around the sixth floor of the hospital with her IV and pump in tow.

"She's extremely strong. She's a former gymnast and college diver. She's always been athletic, so she's very determined," Torey Hirsch said.

Like Jacquie Hirsch, her father said the family remains positive.

"It's extremely devastating and it flips your world upside down," Torey Hirsch said. "However, we have had tremendous support from family and friends, as well as the larger community, and even among clients [at the gymnastics center] there has been a tremendous outpouring of support that keeps you strong and fighting every day. It helps us keep hope alive that we will be able to find that match."

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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