BY INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA — Shortly before she died in late April, Dawn McGuinness asked her friend Lisa Cheney for one thing: an improved room at Albany Medical Center for fellow patients battling cystic fibrosis. This year’s Swim-A-Thon at the Niskayuna Town Pool on July 15 was dedicated to fulfilling this wish.
This year’s Swim-A-Thon at the Niskayuna Town Pool on July 15 was dedicated to fulfilling this wish.
“Dawn was the kindest person I knew … she put her special mark on everything she created,” Cheney said.
Although McGuinness battled cystic fibrosis for many years, she had a successful career in public relations, first working in New York City and then later on in Albany.
“She didn’t really let her CF get in the way … she was a very active person and most people she worked with didn’t even know she had it,” Cheney said.
McGuinness and Cheney first met about 15 years ago, when Cheney was working on building the Donna M. Crandall Foundation, which her family had founded to help support those living with CF. Crandall was Cheney’s sister-in-law and when Crandall died due to her 41-year-battle with CF, Cheney and her family wanted to help others with the disease.
The foundation has grown immensely since its start in 2000.
“We started out with our gift bag program, where we would just go to the hospital and donate a paper bag filled with things that our family was able to put together … now we have branded L.L. Bean canvas bags that we donate filled with everything from Beat headphones to gift cards,” Cheney said.
When her battles with CF stopped McGuinness’ career short, she began to work with Cheney for the foundation, writing news releases and doing anything she could.
“We’re on the everyday care side of this,” Cheney said. The foundation gives away gift bags, helps to pay for hospital stays, and any other financial hardships that patients battling CF might be going through.
But they’re hoping to do even more this year.
“When Dawn’s CF treatment brought her down to New York at Beth Israel Hospital, she had a really nice room … there was a desk, a place where a family member could sit comfortably, her own shower,” Cheney said.
During treatment, all McGuinness thought about was bringing the comforts that the room brought her up to her fellow CF patients at Albany Med.
“So we want to make that a reality,” Cheney said.
Albany Med has agreed to the room redesign, which is expected to cost $69,000.
The Donna M. Crandall Foundation will be donating $25,000 toward the project and is working to fundraise for the remaining need.
That is precisely where this year’s Swim-A-Thon event comes into play.
The annual event has been going on for a decade, but this year participants of the Wild Turkeys Swim and Dive Team had more to swim for than ever.
Kate Russo, McGuinness’ niece, is a lifeguard at the town pool and will be swimming for her aunt this year. “She was always so sunny and cheery, like the beach. But with her CF, it was like she would get knocked down by a wave every once in a while,” Kate said.
Throughout the years of Swim-A-Thon, the event has grown in popularity.
“The first year we raised $500 and last year we raised $5,000,” said Denise Murphy-McGraw, one of the event organizers.
With the high cost of the room renovations at Albany Medical, the Donna M. Crandall Foundation can use all the help it can get, Cheney said.
The swimmers seemed to take this to heart, in part because Dave Crandall, who was Donna’s husband, was an educator at Iroquois Middle School and many of the older swimmers remember him fondly.
During the evening, there were pool games, raffles, and a bottle and can drive.
This was Caroline McGraw’s first year leading the swimmers as lifeguard and coach.
“I’m a little bit nervous because last year we raised more than we ever have and I want to be able to raise even more this year. But I know that as much we can get will help the foundation,” Caroline said.
During the evening, $4,500 was raised. However, the Wild Turkeys Swim and Dive Team plan to continue to raise funds over the next two weeks to help make Dawn McGuinness’ dream a reality.