ALTAMONT — When teachers and staff at Altamont Lutheran Interparish School found out about kindergartner Abbey Franzen’s health issues, plans to help were immediately started.
”It’s just unbelievable,” said Principal Gail Traub. “Everybody was going to help. We thought, ‘OK, this is what God has called us to do and that’s what we’re going to do.’”
Franzen was diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia in the spring, a genetic disorder that results in bone marrow failure which can cause birth defects and longstanding effects on a person’s health. Her father, Daryn Franzen said the first hospital trips were initiated when Abbey was taking a long time to recover from a fever earlier this year.
”I think the most important thing is that before all this happened, we were just like everybody else,” he said. “You’d have the conversations every day about bills or whatever and now it’s about what the doctors say or what we’re waiting on or how Abbey’s doing. Everything we say and do is about Abbey now.”
Those changes in the family’s life immediately had an impact on Abbey’s life at school and staff took notice. Franzen’s teacher, Jana Deadmond, said she worked with other teachers and the school’s student council to find a way to get involved and help offset the high medical costs for treatment.
”We weren’t aware of Abbey’s condition until after the first of the year,” she said. “Her parents came forward and said that they were going through this, and they had gone through their insurance and knew about what the cost would be. We did a lot of brainstorming and tried to come up with any way that we could help.”
Students rallied behind the cause. Each individual grade at the school collected quarters to build a paper-link chain for Franzen, with each quarter representing a link. The fundraiser brought in $2,000 for the treatment. Other fundraisers, such as a paper airplane contest and donations from the school’s annual musical added more money.
”It was fun,” said fifth-grader Koral Gehle-Matlock, who donated money from her savings account. “You didn’t even realize you were doing it for her. It was just fun.”
Teachers from throughout the school said students were excited to do all they could to give.
”It was totally amazing,” said April Stuemke. “The kids just came through. They do understand what’s going on and yet they don’t. When the kids can help someone out, they’re just so happy doing it. They just want to help and that’s one way they can help. The teachers and the students I think would do anything we asked to help Abbey.”
Daryn Franzen said the whole family was impressed with the amount of support and help they’ve received from the Altamont community.
”To be completely honest, it’s rather impressive how willing people are to help out and how generous people are,” he said. “It’s truly remarkable that there’s people who I don’t know who come up and tell me they saw something on Facebook and they’re wanting to help out. They have so many of their own problems, and they’re willing to put things on the back burner to help us.”
With fundraising helping to offset the cost of treatment, one of the things the Franzen family is still waiting on is a donor. A bone marrow transplant for Abbey is the next step and after a test to see if her brother, Drew, was a match turned out negative, the family is waiting to find the best potential transplant match possible.
Despite her health, Daryn Franzen said Abbey is still trying her best to live the life of a normal 6-year-old girl.
”I think we’re doing OK,” he said. “It’s obviously a fairly stressful situation. All in all, Abbey’s doing well. She knows she’s sick but she doesn’t act like it. She’s just acting like a normal 6-year-old kid. If you talk to her and watch her and interact with her, she’s 10 feet tall and bulletproof. There’s nothing she’s afraid of doing. She’s just a really, really, really good kid.
A website has been set up to help gather funds to pay for the medical bills. Donations at gofundme.com/2lvzfs are more than $15,000, but with a $80,000 goal, Stuemke said more work needs to be done.She has been working with a committee to organize a fundraiser that will be held Saturday at the Carriage House in Altamont. The event will start at 4 p.m., with a dinner served at 5 p.m. followed by an auction at 7 p.m. The fundraiser also will feature live music, as well as a bake sale. She said local businesses have been very supportive of the fundraising efforts.
Daryn Franzen said the couple is blessed to be given the opportunity to raise Abbey.
”Everything about her is super special. It takes about 4 seconds with her to find that out.”
Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or firstname.lastname@example.org.