Bridget Casey – PNH Survivor and Scholarship Recipient Uses Her Faith To Help Others | Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation (AAMDSIF) Return to top.

Bridget Casey – PNH Survivor and Scholarship Recipient Uses Her Faith To Help Others

"I discovered that I might not live to my 40th birthday."

One of the last things I expected in life was to be diagnosed with a rare disease.  After completing my PhD in Food Science at the University of Minnesota in 1998 and starting a career as a product development scientist, I began having symptoms of fatigue and easy bruising. It took three years and eight doctors to diagnose the disease as paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH). A physician at UCLA finally diagnosed me.  After learning more about it, I discovered that I might not live to my 40th birthday. 

Unfortunately, I also learned that it is very difficult to remain in corporate employment with a long-term illness.  In 2005, I left to go back to school at Fuller Theological Seminary in California to earn a Master of Divinity (MDiv) for a career as a hospital chaplain.  I felt called to Christian ministry during my later years of high school and was now answering that call. I worked full-time at the seminary while attending school part-time. 

In 2007, I developed complications with PNH which required that I take incompletes in two classes because of three hospitalizations. I later underwent unsuccessful anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG)  treatment, which put me back one academic year. My doctor then restricted me from work and school so I could prepare for a bone marrow transplant which occurred on September 11, 2008 at the UCLA Medical Center.

My parents moved down to Monrovia (southern California) for the duration of the transplant, taking turns helping me and taking care of my two cats. They also came as needed for the seven years before the transplant.  My friends and extended family were also very supportive.  But above all, I relied on my faith.

My unrelated donor was a man from Germany. I still hope to meet him someday, to thank him. The transplant was so successful that once I left the hospital, I never went back for treatment. I was told that it was very uncommon for bone marrow to attach so quickly.  My social worker described it as “a miracle.”  My only setback was a diagnosis of epilepsy from a chemotherapy drug. I was relieved when I learned that my epilepsy could be controlled with medication.

On November 10, 2008, my birthday, just a few days prior to my planned date to return to work, I learned that my job at the seminary was eliminated. AA&MDSIF’s scholarship program at that time was the Harry Carson Scholarship Program. I applied and was very excited to receive a Carson Scholarship award because I knew it would enable me to work toward my degree.

December 20, 2008, was my 100th day celebration after the transplant. Not only was I celebrating the success of my transplant, I was also celebrating my ability to return to school as a full-time student - something I never thought would be possible. If not for this scholarship, I do not believe that I would have been able to finish my seminary education, as I still had many classes to take to complete the MDiv degree, and would have been unable to finance my schooling along with my medical bills. 

Since receiving the scholarship, many good and wonderful things have happened to me. On November 10, 2009, I turned 40 years old and in September 2011, I graduated with my Master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. A paper I wrote in seminary school was published in the Journal of Religion, Spirituality, and Aging. 

In November 2011, I was ordained as a minister in the American Baptist Churches.  Almost a year later, I returned to my hometown of Stockton, California to help my parents after my father was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer (he’s now in remission) and began a job as an Associate Pastor at the First Baptist Church in Stockton.

Last year, I was sworn in as a volunteer chaplain in the Stockton Police Department.  As a police chaplain, I am able to help both officers and the public. I help at crime scenes by comforting victims, and ride along with officers, assisting where I can. I can be a source of support to not only the officers, but those I come in contact with. I am in awe at seeing what a difference this ministry makes in the City of Stockton.  Recently, I started a “prayer bear” ministry. When a chaplain interacts with a child at a scene who is experiencing trauma, the chaplain is able to give the child a prayer bear to help comfort the child.

Because of budget concerns, my position as an associate pastor was cut; however, I was just accepted into the UC Davis 2014-2015 Clinical Pastoral Education Residency Program which will allow me to become trained as a hospital chaplain! I continue to volunteer as a police chaplain and a tutor at the Gospel Center Rescue Mission four days a week.

Living with PNH and having a bone marrow transplant has allowed me to better understand others who are faced with long term illnesses, long stays at hospitals, serious medical treatments, and issues with insurance companies. I’ve seen the toll these situations have on family, friends, and caregivers and understand the frustrations of patients who have experienced many of the problems I encountered during my illness. I now have a new understanding that I can bring to the bedside in the hospital or at the curbside in the city as a chaplain.