Ed Siemienkowicz

Ontiveros: Internet ‘telethon’ aims to cover one man’s medical bills

SHARE Ontiveros: Internet ‘telethon’ aims to cover one man’s medical bills
SHARE Ontiveros: Internet ‘telethon’ aims to cover one man’s medical bills

Who doesn’t enjoy the occasional interlude on the Internet while at work?

Especially on Fridays, when the weekend’s staring us in the face.

This Friday, when you’re looking for a distraction, stop by Ed Siemienkowicz’s novel idea in his fight against the bills pancreatic cancer brought: an Internet telethon via Google hangout. (http://www.giveforward.com)


Last fall, Siemienkowicz, a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, knew something wasn’t right, healthwise. Some 40 pounds had dropped from his 185-pound runner’s frame in a month’s time. And, he wasn’t sure if his eyes were playing tricks on him, but damned if it didn’t look like his skin had taken on a yellow hue.

Timing’s everything, and the Ravenswood resident’s wasn’t good. He had just become eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and as he was rushing to get insurance, he realized his health couldn’t wait. A battery of tests uncovered stage 3 pancreatic cancer and it had to be tackled immediately.

He was lucky, though, in that his cancer was operable and so, as he describes it, “I had 5 pounds of guts taken out and I was put back together.”

Cancer had spread to the lymph nodes, so four months of chemotherapy followed. Right now he’s finishing up five weeks of a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. Though the medicines and procedure have left him foggy and extremely fatigued, the 41-year-old Siemienkowicz says he’s “looking forward to getting back to work, to life.”

As this all was unfolding and as the shock of what the medical treatment would cost – the first call he got was from the hospital’s finance department (“pay in full by Friday” and he’d qualify for a discount. Such a deal.) – Siemienkowicz knew he didn’t have the funds to pay for it, nor, in his words “a wife’s insurance at work or rich parents” to save the day.

But what he did have was a group of loyal and resourceful friends and clients who organized and started fundraising for him. He has a page on the Bucktown-based Giveforward, an online fundraising/donation website. (Since its beginning in August of 2008, the website says donors have given close to $165 million to help individuals pay medical expenses.)

But back to the telethon, which promises to have its wacky moments. Siemienkowicz and his team knew they had to do something creative so his appeal would stand out. And with that, the telethon was born.

“I know so many talented people,” the humorous Siemienkowicz said, so he decided to tap them for the telethon, which will continue from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Friday. So far he has about 20 confirmed “personalities,” mostly from the Chicago area, but some from elsewhere, including Canada (ah, the beauty of the Internet). There are musicians and storytellers. A friend who’s a pro at yoga will demonstrate good moves one can do in the office. Swing dancers will perform at locations around the city. Oh, I almost forgot the Star Wars trivia!

Yes, the telethon will help pay what Siemienkowicz owes (It’s cleverly called Bills & Ed’s Excellent Telethon). And will help him financially, until he can work at full capacity again. But the people who reach out and help him – the familiar and total strangers from as far away as Europe and Australia – boy, they inspire him.

“They are totally motivating and have kept me afloat,” he says

On Friday, check out the telethon and see what friendship can bring when one’s in need.

Email: sueontiveros.cst@gmail.com

Twitter: @sueontiveros

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