The Bone Marrow Foundation
New York, New York
At first, Christina Merrill says, I couldn't believe it was possible. As a hospital social worker in the early 90s at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center, she was shocked that in 20th-century America, patients who might have survived with bone marrow transplants were sent home to die because they couldnt afford it.
Thats when this soft-spoken woman found her voice as an advocate for her patientsand then there was no silencing her. First she turned to family. Her late father, jazz pianist Joe Bushkin, who had toured with Bing Crosby, called on his musician friends to put on a rousing fund-raiser.
Since she founded The Bone Marrow Foundation in 1992, it has helped 45,000 children and adult bone marrow/stem cell transplant patients with financial assistance, education, and free support serviceseverything from help with paperwork that can be overwhelming for the desperately ill to searching for donors and paying for procedures and child care. Impressively, private donations provide 100 percent of these services. Its heartbreaking to Christinawho does everything from licking stamps to counseling patients on the phonethat her organization can only afford to fund about half of those who seek its help. For inspiration, she turns to her patients. They have unbelievable strength and endurance, she says.
Christina particularly treasures this simple, heartfelt letter from a patient: I want to thank you for the $500. The day it came we were the most depressed since all this illness began. We didnt even have money to put gas in our cars. When I went to the mail and opened that letter, my wife and I couldnt believe it. I cant tell you how relieved it made us feel.