Group raises money for co-worker

Team LifeSavers helps woman fighting cancer

A group connected with UPMC Altoona’s Emer­gency Department recently raised $21,000 for one of their own who has breast cancer — and big medical bills.

Team LifeSavers, which since 2012 has helped raise money for Family Services Inc. through its annual footrace at Penn State Altoona, this year assigned itself the additional task of generating funds for patient access representative Mary Bracciale.

That task centered around an event on April 6 at Phoenix Volunteer Fire Department that included a spaghetti dinner — eat in, takeout and delivered — a basket raffle, silent auction, gift-card trees and sales of T-shirts emblazoned with the statement, “Fight like a girl: Mary B,” according to registered nurses and team members Jami Hall and Jaime Weigand.

Bracciale was “overwhelmed” in October, shortly after her diagnosis, when she learned the group was planning the fundraiser, and she was overwhelmed again at the event itself, Bracciale said.

The members didn’t want Bracciale to worry about finances, Weigand said.

They’ve also kept tabs on her by phone.

“They said you’ll never go through this alone,” Bracciale said. “I couldn’t ask for better friends.”

Bracciale is well-known and well-liked, “so it was easy to get a ton of people on board,” Hall said.

She had surgery in February: a right mastectomy and dissection of 26 lymph nodes, Bracciale said.

Since then, she’s had chemotherapy.

She has three treatments left, followed by six weeks of radiation.

She’s a little “hesitant” about her prognosis, worried the cancer could spread.

“But everybody is so positive,” she said. “I’m doing pretty good, considering.”

She’s back at work full time, having taken a total of 10 weeks off since October.

The money raised by the group has helped cover medical expenses not paid by insurance and has provided her with extra funding to cover upcoming shortfalls — and the paycheck gaps for days she takes Family Medical Leave due to chemo sickness, she said.

“It took a load off my mind,” she said of the financial help.

Some years, the group has raised as much as several thousand dollars for Family Services, Weigand said. This year, it’s sponsoring the trophies for the race, she said.

The group is also planning a T-shirt fundraiser and basket raffle to add money to its account for next year’s event, “or God forbid, if there’s a need for someone in our department,” Weigand said.

The group identified Family Services as a worthy cause because the organization “helps people really in need” — including those whose desperation the ER workers sometimes witness, Hall said.

The core members of Team LifeSavers are Hall, Weigand, Robyn Hampton, an ER tech, Kevin Clark, a registered nurse, Jim Green, a paramedic with AMED, Brandy Bergum, a registered nurse, Tammy Myers, a patient access representative and clinical manager Chrissy Martin, a licensed practical nurse and ER tech.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.