‘It was the greatest gift’: Sask. woman’s legacy has saved 54 lives
Mandi Schwartz was a lot of things: a hockey player, a daughter, a sister, a friend.
Her hockey career took her to Yale University following her high school graduation, where she played for the women’s team.
It was during her time there that she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2008.
After a hard fight including chemotherapy, radiation and an unsuccessful search for a bone marrow match, Mandi lost her battle in April of 2011 at 23 years old.
“This year’s been a hard time, for the 10 years,” Mandi’s father Rick Schwartz said at his home in Regina, looking back over the decade since his daughter’s diagnosis.
In Mandi’s memory, a teammate created the Mandi Schwartz Foundation. Every year, it hosts bone marrow drives, where people can get swabbed and added to the registry, in hopes of being someone’s perfect match.
Although Mandi’s friends and family were tested, no one was a perfect match for her. But during her battle, she requested that her family and friends make it easier for others, telling her parents ‘if you can’t help me, help others.’
“So that’s what the foundation is about. And I think there’s nothing more special, and she’d be very proud,” Rick said.
Since the foundation launched, there’s been 54 matches from 7,000 people who registered.
One of those matches came from Micahel Hellrich, who took part in a bone marrow donation registry at a St. Louis Blues hockey game. That’s where Mandi’s brother, Jaden, plays.
Four years later, Hellrich got a call saying he was someone’s perfect match.
The recipient was Regan Brown, an Alabama teenager who suffered from the same leukemia as Mandi.
This month, Brown, Hellrich and the Schwartzes all met for the first time at a St. Louis Blues game.
“Just witnessing those two being able to give each other a hug, and to just know how good he felt, and how good she felt…” said Carol Schwartz, Mandi’s mom. “It was the greatest gift.”
While the Schwartzes say all matches are special, this one was even more-so.
“Maybe because it was in St. Louis, and Jaden was pulled into that story as well. It was just a beautiful day,” said Carol.
On top of that, Carol said Brown reminded her of her own daughter.
“I think it was her youthfulness, and her positive attitude, and her big smile for sure,” said Carol. “And there are just so many traits. Their birthdays are so close, their stories.”
The relationship between Hellrich, Brown and the Schwartzes is one that will carry on for a long time.
Meetings are already planned for the future, including a hopeful visit to Saskatchewan by Brown and Hellrich in August, to take part in the Run for Mandi.