The Kindles for Chemo team created a website and Facebook page in their successful fundraising. The students’ efforts in a sophomore English unit at Carroll High School will provide Kindles for the infusion-therapy department at St. Anthony Regional Hospital. Pictured are students Tyler Harmening, Lexi Reicks, Cassidy O’Leary and Brandi Winker with teacher Becky Boes, who has taught a problem-solution unit for the last eight or nine years and added a real-world component.
The Kindles for Chemo team created a website and Facebook page in their successful fundraising. The students’ efforts in a sophomore English unit at Carroll High School will provide Kindles for the infusion-therapy department at St. Anthony Regional Hospital. Pictured are students Tyler Harmening, Lexi Reicks, Cassidy O’Leary and Brandi Winker with teacher Becky Boes, who has taught a problem-solution unit for the last eight or nine years and added a real-world component.
November 26, 2013

Kindles for Chemo, meet the highly successful Bet on Uncle Bruce fundraiser.

This has proven to be an ideal match-up that soon will benefit the many patients who undergo chemotherapy at St. Anthony Regional Hospital.

A team of four students - Tyler Harmening, Cassidy O'Leary, Lexi Reicks and Brandi Winker - originated Kindles for Chemo for a problem-solution unit in a sophomore English class at Carroll High School. Teacher Becky Boes emphasizes a real-world component in the class, having teams of students in the class each identify a problem where they can take action and have an impact.

The Kindles for Chemo student identified the problem: "Cancer is a disease that far too many people are diagnosed with every day. ... Believe it or not, most people are not aware of what chemotherapy is. Chemotherapy is treating cancer with chemical substances. Patients can consume it through pills orally, or injected through veins. When injected, the waiting can take anywhere from 30 minutes to many hours. Side effects are hair loss, nausea, fatigue, weight loss and possible depression. At St. Anthony Regional Hospital, there are nine chemotherapy chairs. Those chairs are used every day by cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy. The treatment can last for hours. In the hospital rooms, there are few options of entertainment."

Their solution: "What this group wants to accomplish is to let the patients have a better experience when receiving their treatment. Kindles are electronic books that also have Internet and availability to movies and apps. They will definitely be able to keep people entertained for a number of hours. Hopefully the patients will cheer up if they can play games, read a great book, or enjoy their favorite movie. It could take a little bit of pressure away from the treatment they're currently receiving."

Meanwhile, the second annual Bet on Uncle Bruce, an event launched by the family of the late Bruce Pettitt, playing on his love for sports, turned into a huge success this year, generating close to $7,000.

Pettitt's family were looking for ways to disburse those funds, wanting it to help people in the community where Bruce, who died last year at age 58, lived most of his life.

Bruce's only child - daughter Tricia Pettitt, who's a biology educator at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. - discovered the Facebook page created by the CHS sophomores, putting out the call for donations to supply Kindles for the chairs in the chemotherapy department at St. Anthony Regional Hospital.

The students' project hit home ­- both for families of students on the Kindles for Chemo team as well as the Pettitt family.

Students on the team said they've had family members impacted by cancer, but the most direct case was in the family of Lexi Reicks. Her mom, Jenny, is a three-year, breast-cancer survivor. Lexi, only in seventh grade when her mom was undergoing cancer surgery and chemotherapy, and her brother Ross, now 19, had to step up and take a lead role in the family and help with care of two younger brothers, Connor, now 12, and Mason, 6.

Lexi said in her proposal for the Kindles for Chemo project, "I thought of the idea when I thought about what my mom told me after receiving months of chemo treatments. She had said that it was so boring sitting there for so many hours at a time and only having more time to think about what was happening to your body. I thought that this would be a good idea so everyone could keep their mind off of the negatives. My life was greatly impacted by my mother getting cancer, and I know this project isn't going to save lives, but it can help make them more comfortable during this hard time."

In the Pettitt family, Bruce fought a 10-month battle with cancer, undergoing some long chemotherapy sessions at St. Anthony Regional Hospital. However, Bruce passed away in March 2012. He was born in Norfolk, Neb., and the family moved to Carroll when he was a youth. He was confirmed at St. Paul Lutheran Church and graduated from Carroll High School in 1971.

Sue Marquardt, Bruce's sister, was able to accompany her brother to his chemotherapy at St. Anthony since she had recently retired as a longtime Carroll Community School District bus driver.

"I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time with him those last 10 months," she said. "I'd step up to the plate to do it again, because it was very dear to my heart."

Bruce raved about the outstanding care he received at St. Anthony, Sue said.

"The last nine weeks of his life he spent in the hospital," she said, "and he was just overwhelmed, and so was the family, with his treatment and how kind everyone was. And we've been wondering how we can give back somehow."

Then, after the success of Bet on Uncle Bruce, Tricia saw the Kindles for Chemo Facebook page.

Pettitt and Reicks' family members know each other, and the Kindles for Chemo cause was a perfect use for some of the proceeds from the event, Pettitt family members agreed.

"Since the golf and bowling event in early October, we'd been considering ways to disburse proceeds throughout the community because we wanted to keep the money local," Marquardt said.

After seeing the Kindles for Chemo information, she continued, "Our hearts just melted. We had to do it. That was one of the places where everybody (in the family) said 'Absolutely. What a wonderful idea.' I remember going through Bruce's treatment with him, sitting up there, and not a whole lot to do. This (Kindles) is just something we can give back and help other families."

Bruce's family donated $1,200 of the nearly $7,000 raised by Bet on Uncle Bruce to Kindles for Chemo.

In fact, that hefty donation propelled the Kindles for Chemo team past their $2,500 fundraising goal before they even had a chance to make a formal presentation on their project last week to a panel of judges at a recent English 10 class.

The students had already begun raising funds by contacting businesses, posting flyers throughout the community and creating the Facebook page. Although they've already surpassed their goal, the team has continued its fundraising. They recently gave a presentation at a Carroll Rotary Club meeting, and they were spearheading homeroom fundraising competition at Carroll Middle School, with Pizza Ranch supplying incentive prize coupons.

The students initially planned to buy Kindles for all nine chemo chairs in St. Anthony's infusion-therapy department, however, hospital officials told them six would be sufficient because usually not every chair's in use at one time.

Thanks to their fundraising success and having to buy fewer Kindles, the students now plan to buy higher-quality Kindles, which students envision patients using to read books, watch movies or use for many other applications.

"There are a lot of different things they (patients) can do with them to keep them entertained," Lexi Reicks said, adding, "It's something to do while sitting there because chemotherapy can be a very long process."

Lexi's mom, Jenny, was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago and then underwent four chemo sessions, surgery, and four more chemo sessions. While the first set of chemo sessions took about an hour each, the last sessions lasted about four hours. Jenny said she spent time sleeping or listening to music on iPod. Also, her husband, Paul, arranged to have a manicurist visit the hospital and give Jenny manicures.

Jenny, who's worked in accounting at Drees Co. 12 years and is a 1997 CHS graduate, said when Lexi told her she was the main inspiration for Kindles for Chemo, her first thought was "That's so sweet."

"I'm excited for them," Jenny said of the students. "Cancer is so prevalent right now in our area. It's a great thing for them to be doing."

Lexi proved to be a "big helper" at home during her treatment, Jenny said, adding, "She's been affected by (the experience), that's for sure."

Jenny is currently in remission and counting down the time to the five-year mark when she can be considered cancer-free.

"After five years, the doctor says, you can go have a bottle of champagne and lie on the beach in Hawaii. I'm waiting for that five-year mark," said Jenny.

CHS English teacher Boes launched the problem-solution unit eight or nine years ago, and a few years ago added a "real-world" emphasis.

She explained, "This can be local or global depending upon their (students') interests. Then they problem-solve to find a solution. Once that happens they have to create a plan making all the necessary arrangements and contacts. Once the plan is written, they begin to prepare for a presentation for a panel of judges, which consists of members of the community. This semester the panel included Jerry Rupiper (American Home Shield), Bev Schultes (United Bank of Iowa), Adam Schweers (Carroll mayor/Computer Concepts), Sonia Walsh (self-employed), Tammie McKenzie (CHS assistant principal) and Audrey Ingram (Daily Times Herald). The judges choose the winning teams. Those teams earn 50 points extra credit and the chance to implement their ideas."

Kindles for Chemo has received rave response from St. Anthony Regional Hospital vice president of patient services Karen Timm, who comments, "I was very impressed by the selfless compassion of the students working on this endeavor. An incredible amount of forethought, planning and hard work went into assuring its success. The students' enthusiasm for helping others was heartwarming. This is another example of the generous spirit of the Carroll community."

Timm said there can be anywhere from two to nine patients in infusion therapy at any given time, with some patients' sessions lasting as long as eight hours.

The department has TVs at each chair and various reading materials. Many patients have family or friends come with them for therapy. Some of the medications may make patients tired, so they choose to sleep during the infusion. St. Anthony provides wireless Internet access for patients housewide. Patients can take in their own electronic devices and utilize the hospital's WiFi for additional entertainment.

"The Kindles will be a very versatile distraction," Timm said. "Patients will be able to access their own Kindle accounts if they already have one. They can use the Kindles (from the CHS project) at the hospital instead of bringing their own each time they come in for a treatment. I foresee the patients utilizing the Kindles for reading, watching movies, et cetera. The students anticipate additional funds from the project will be available to support the expense of renting movies or downloading reading materials. This ongoing continuation of the project will assure that many patients benefit from the students' hard work."

CHS teacher Boes says the Kindles for Chemo students accomplished a first in her class.

They dived into their project and had passed their fundraising goals before making their presentation before the judges.

Noting that ambition and success, Boes describes the team as "unstoppable."

"Every year there are students who amaze me with their ideas and abilities," Boes said, "but this is the first time I ever had a group of students who not only made their goal but surpassed it a week before they even presented to the judges. I attribute their success to the type of people they are. They are assertive, driven, impassioned and dedicated. I truly mean it when I say they are unstoppable."

Boes said Kindle for Chemo or any other problem-solution teams can learn valuable lessons: How to communicate as a team, how to handle correspondence with the community, how to problem-solve, how leadership should be handled, et cetera."

Boes added, "The most important aspect for me, however, is to show students that you never have to be a passive member of the community. Being active and contributing to the world around you is an essential life skill."

The Kindles for Chemo students said in an update on their efforts, "This project started off as a simple idea to do something for cancer patients and has turned into so much more. We never thought that it would turn into such a big project. We all care about this project so much and still hope to raise more money to make the Kindle project more successful. We plan to purchase the Kindles soon and finally get to make our get our project out into the community."