Giving for Gwendolyn

For: Gwendolyn & Robert Westlund
Organizer: Pamela Rocco & Friends
$15,503
of $30,000 goal.
Raised by 136 donors
51% Complete
This fundraiser is not active at this time.

The Story

Gwendolyn is a 32 year old loving wife and devoted friend from Willowbrook, IL who desperately needs a heart transplant, and your help.  Her journey thus far has been incredibly difficult, and one health concern after another has plagued her since she was in her mid teens. 

In 2002, at the age of 21, Gwendolyn was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of lymphatic cancer that affects the lymphatic and immune system.  She was treated with surgery and radiation therapy, but unfortunately her “cure” would end up causing nearly as much long-term damage as it did short-term good. 

Gwendolyn’s cancer was successfully subdued and she entered remission in late 2003, thinking that her battle had been won.  Unfortunately she would spend the next 5 years dealing with a variety of health problems from chronic bronchitis, kidney stones, hiatal hernia, ulcers, infections, etc.  Tragically, in 2008, after a long history of health problems, Gwendolyn came down with double lung pneumonia.  After nearly two weeks of hospitalization and antibiotics, she was diagnosed with heart failure due to a prolapsed mitral valve caused by scarring from her previous radiation treatments.  During a diagnostic test, Gwendolyn reacted poorly to the anesthesia, and during the procedure her heart stopped unexpectedly & was dead for near 2 minutes.  She was successfully revived, and from that point forward kept her health in control with a healthy diet, cardiology checkups, and medication.  Gwendolyn showed improvement from 2011-2012, and once again thought that she’d beat the odds.

In May 2013 while at work, Gwendolyn suddenly fell ill and knew immediately that it was her heart.  She was taken to the ER at Good Samaritan Hospital, and after a week of tests and second opinions, she was transported to Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn to receive specialized care for advanced end stage heart failure.  Within 24 hours, a Left Ventricle Assist Device (LVAD) was implanted, the following 2 days they needed an aortic and mitral valve replacement to combat her cardiac failure.  The device caused problems with the right side of her heart and an external Right Ventricle Assist Device (RVAD) was implanted for the majority of her stay.  She endured four separate heart surgeries, was under sedation for 8 days, and remained hospitalized for over 2.5 months.  Gwendolyn is now on the national registry for a heart transplant and hopes to get “the call” at any moment. 

Gwendolyn has been a responsible & caring member of society for her entire adult life. She’s worked throughout most of her ailments and provided for herself & her two younger siblings as if they were her own children, being their surrogate parent for over a decade.  Before her heart failure, Gwendolyn was a dedicated volunteer to many organizations.  She participated and volunteered for causes that she believes in and has been active with cancer research fundraisers, Look Good Feel Better, Toys For Tots, World Vision and has even helped organize fundraisers for neighbors in need.  She’s always the first to jump in, the first to say “yes,” and the first to rally a team for whatever cause she’s involved with. 

Before falling ill for the third time, Gwendolyn was blessed to be able to marry her biggest supporter, her caregiver, and love of her life, Bob, in October 2012. With all that Gwendolyn has been through, the last thing that she and Bob should be worried about now is how to pay the bills.  Between May 2013 & October 2013, Gwendolyn’s portion of medical bills, prescription costs, insurance premiums, and co-payments, deductible & co-insurance have added up to over $150,000 and the couple is drowning in medical debt.  When “the call” finally comes, the costs of her heart transplant and related hospitalization, home care, & recovery will further add to what feels like an insurmountable debt. The average cost of a heart transplant surgery, pre & post op testing, & recovery ranges between $750,000 - $1,000,000 and depending on your insurance a good majority of that expense is the patients responsibilty. 

As friends of Gwendolyn and Bob, we’ve started this campaign to try to play a small part in helping to alleviate their financial stress.  We want them to be focused on Gwendolyn’s health & recovery, and not on unrelenting creditor calls and a flood of medical bills. 

If you’re able to help with a donation of any amount, please click the “give now” link on this page.  If you cannot donate online, please feel free to send a check, money order, or even a few dollars to the address listed below and reference “Giving for Gwendolyn.” Even $1 helps and is appreciated.

Gwendolyn Westlund
11s514 Rachael Court
Willowbrook, IL 60527

If you have any questions, or would like to support Gwendolyn with a non-monetary gift, please feel free to contact me via email at pam.rocco@yahoo.com.  

If you are unable to donate but still want to help, please share this campaign and help us spread the word. 

Thank you and God Bless!

Special Thanks to Rob Baker at Photogenic Chicago fb.com/photogenicchicago for the stunning "before" pictures he took of Bob & Gwen at their wedding in October 2012.

Fundraiser Updates

Posted on June 30, 2015

Posted on June 30, 2015

Update post 6/29/15 by Gwendolyn Westlund

Well, I'm feeling extra run down lately. It seems my bi pap mask only fits well the first week and then, despite proper care, if I move in the slightest it starts leaking horribly and wakes me up anyway. I'm not sleeping and when I do, I am not sleeping well. My joints are extra achy and my migraines and constant sneezing have suddenly returned.

I mentioned in my last post that I talked to my transplant psychologist about this and panic attacks. The team was supposed to get back to me about changing some meds, but I still haven't heard anything. I'll call again tomorrow, but it's relly frustrating when I'm trying to focus and I'm constantly needing to chase after my doctor's and team about test results and med changes.

You have to advocate for yourself. It's exhausting but you do. It's disheartening too, because I love my team and realize they are busy, but every patient matters, especially when you get phone calls constantly about the money you owe them and they you can't even get a phone call to check in.

I think my doctor appointments will need to be pushed back again. Next week is not panning out with rides the way I anticipated. Hopefully I can still get in this month. I assume my biopsy is at the end of July, no one has confirmed either way, but when I know, I will update with that and any news of doctor appointments.

The Relay for Life Westmont & Downers Grove were both successful and I am honored to have been the survivor speaker, but I think I over do it sometimes. Unfortunately I don't know until I've already overdone. Not the worst thing in the world to run myself down trying to do good things and I won't stop. I realize that's my choice but I can't in good conscious be in this world without paying it forward to my donor and family and God. Sorry if you don't like that, but that's why I am here.

Rant over, sorry all. Not my usual sunshine self today. Tomorrow will be better. I see the babies, that always puts a smile on my face. I'll also be finalizing plans for Recycled Life: Paying it Forward blood drive/organ donor event in August. Need to get my gusto going for that, it'll be a long weekend & I'll need my energy.

Sorry for being down, I usually try to keep myself positive. Not everything is sunshine or roses and there are not so fun side effects to meds and transplant. I need to get into rehab again too but like most things it's nearly impossible with no rides. Working on it, working on it for all tx patients. Things will get better and I will change it myself somehow. Be well, God Bless, and I'll update in the coming weeks. I'm ok, just a little blues.


Posted on April 29, 2015

Posted on April 29, 2015

Updated post 4/29/2015 by Gwendolyn Westlund

Well, I've neglected updates for a couple months. Things have been busy and frankly I've been tired inbetween project. In February I went on my first trip out of the country and saw the ocean for the first time! It was an amazing experience and I'm so very blessed to have my father in law, Bob and his wife, Sandy to spoil us a bit. He knew this was on my bucket list and decided to treat us as our Christmas/Birthday gifts!!! I did a dolphin encounter & zip lined for a short jaunt across the ship, we also saw some fantastic shows & had some great meals. Thank you seems so small of a phrase, but Thank you.

Unfortunately I did have another set back Mid March. I had kidney stones again and with out symptoms it managed to spread an infection from UTI, bladder, kidney, and blood infection. I was hospitalized for 9 days and had a variety of antibiotics and antiviral medication. I needed to have a stent placed to remove all infection from my kidney. I was then sent home with a pic line and IV meds for another 10 days & oral antibiotics for 7days. It was a long ordeal, especially with my first event at the end of the month, but I managed.

I was proud to have the Mayor of Westmont sign and present a proclamation for the town to adopt National Donate Life Month. I successfully hosted my first Recycled Life event at the end of March to bring awareness to organ & tissue donation, blood donation, and also bone marrow matching the Westmont HS and help with various Westmont Entities. Co-Hosted by Westmont HS and Shane Johnson with The Sweet and Savory spot in DT Westmont. It was a success for a first event with over 100 people in attendance and 51 blood drive appointments.

In April I helped raised funds for the Walk the Walk in Hinsdale on behalf of my new friends the Tomanovich Family. Attended a couple of donate life, life goes on, and gift of hope sponsored awareness events. With some help from my heart transplant friends from Advocate Christ Medical Center, I was able to gather donations for Easter gifts and my heart sissy Nicole Brown and I delivered at Advocate Christ Children's Hospital. It was another great experience and we were proud to be able to deliver on behalf of our transplant support group and our wonderful guide, Transplant Psychologist Dr. Ed Mahoney.

I was also lucky to attend fundraiser for Noah Tomanovich's Walk the Walk for Autism Campaign, which was hosted by Cindy Lopez and Signature Events. I attended one of many wonderful events put on by Life Goes On with Secretary of State Jesse White! I was interviewed by WCIU You and Me This Morning live on April 23rd and it went pretty well! Bobby and I walked the walk and my biopsy, which was postponed due to the kidney stones and infection, finally took place yesterday. Everything looked good and we anticipate zero rejection.

Looking forward, I'm trying to get back into Cardiac Rehab, order a new face mask for my sleep apnea machine, and resolve my thyroid issues. I also need to get another c-clast infusion for my calcium and it's about time for all my annual  cancer screenings, but this is all life and maintenance. The most exciting things to come is the future of Recycled Life, the tv spot I did generated a large amount of help starting my non-profit. I am also looking forward to my Recycled Life Relay Team in the upcoming Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society in Westmont at Ty Warner Park. I will also be speaking at the opening ceremony. I say will be, but I should say PLANNING ON. God has his own plan for me and changes course when needed, even if it's a set back like infection or fatigue, not sleeping. I have to look at it as part of the plan.

I hope to inspire other's to reach out and lend a helping hand, to tell their stories of survival & thriving with new life, and support the many people in the area who need help obtaining resources, finding counseling, and hopefully financial assistance. Please pray for my mission and also my health. Thank you all.

Posted on January 16, 2015

Posted on January 16, 2015

Update posted 1/16/2015 by Gwendolyn Westlund

Well, it’s been about a month since my last update and as usual it’s taken longer than I imagined. I spent the end of the year trying to fit in every appointment I could and still, didn’t get all of them done. I feel like no matter what I do sometimes, everything gets dragged out for one reason or another.

The coolest news is that I’m starting to do some awareness events!!! I’m using the page to gain support for organ donation education and awareness, help friends, and support foster care initiatives. I’m currently working on something fun, progressive, and educational in the community and if all goes well will be able to tell people more by the end of the month.

My hematology appointment just left me with more questions than answers. While I’m glad no bone marrow testing needs to be done, the new thing is the genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer. Unfortunately it’s somewhere around 10,000 dollars and insurance will only cover it if Gram has the carrier DNA.She has to get tested first, since she had that kind of cancer.Not the end of the world, just 3 more steps to getting one thing done.

The OB/GYN was roughly the same. Though all my tests came back negative, which is awesome, I’m still dealing with the Nexplanon implant and getting approval for another option. This constant period is way not cool! I guess the Depo shot is the only thing that would give worse side effects. I’m trying to get clearance from the team and infectious disease to get the Mirena instead.

I managed to get my second sleep apnea study done and the order for my machine & prescription for pressures went in before the end of the year, but the appointment to set up everything was finally just set today. Someone will be coming next Wednesday in the morning, over a month after the order was made. I wouldn’t be so anxious if it were just for the exhaustion & fatigue, it’s also because my oxygen levels get too low when I’m sleeping and it’s potentially damaging my new heart and other organs. Even if this doesn’t solve my sleep and fatigue issues, the apnea machine has to be used & the sooner the better.

The Urologist went fine, but they can’t exactly pin point the cause of my kidney stones, it may be a need for more citric acid, they’re giving me a pill form to try or it may be my medications. We’ll do another analysis in a few months.

Just seems like with this whole thing it's an extra 3 steps for everything and nothing gets done until you make two more appointments. I've had Doctors and Nurses say, it's a full time job just being sick or recovering! Yes it is!!! It's exhausting. The calls, the emails, the scheduling, the double checking with schedulers and insurance, and billing departments and getting the round around three times before you get answer on any one thing. Add nervous breakdown to the list? No...I will not!

Biopsy at the end of Decemeber was Negative!!! Awesomeness! They took my predisone down to 2.5mg daily, but my prograf levels went up so I don't know that my body is feeling any different. I'm still getting fog brain and this disconnected feeling, I still have tremors and migraines -  though not as bad, and the random nerve spasm. Don't get me wrong I'm so grateful to be here and I'm getting a little better everyday, I'm just ready to be BETTER! To be me, to take on more. My body doesn't love that idea quite yet.

Infectious disease gave me clearance for the trip in February so that’s exciting!!! I’ve got all my shots taken care of and just need to go in one more time for a final check up before the trip and then check in when we get back. I just need to be cautious while I’m there too. Masks, sanitizer, water shoes, spf, sun hats, the works.

I’m so nervous and excited at the same time! I’ve never seen anything really, well that’s not true. I’ve been to Vegas once to celebrate my remission, a week at Disney World courtesy of my amazing father-in-law, weekends in Wisconsin with Bobby, and Arizona several times to visit family. This will be my official full length vacation with relaxation, shows, dancing, music, dinners, activities, and the ocean!!! I’m going to see the ocean!!! My father-in-law is awesome! You get a new heart, you survive, and you get a cruise for your birthday, Christmas, heart anniversary present. Check it off the bucket list. The first time in my life I need a passport. I’m super nervous though about all the medical stuff, just trying to be as prepared as possible! Extra meds, a list of hospitals, the emergency insurance in case we have to get me back to land, we should be good.

Between that and all the awesome things I’m working on for organ donation awareness and registration and blood drives, the foster care initiatives and care kits I’m trying to get people to sponsor for the kids in foster care…2015 is already off to a pretty amazing start! Can’t wait to see what great things unfold as I continue to follow my path! All I can really ask for is better health and more strength & energy as the year goes on. Please continue to pray for me and us for good health, safe travels, & continued support for our medical needs and helping others!

Next biopsy isn't until end of March, but I will update again soon! Still monthly blood draws and one or two doctors. Plus I'll have to report on the pay it forward projects!

God Bless & Be Well.

Gwendolyn

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