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Spotlight: The Carney Family

The Carney Family with Dr. Walter Longo and Dr. George WildingMax Carney remembers the day he made a promise to his older sister Crystal 24 years ago. She was lying in a hospital bed, stricken with a relapse of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Crystal was 23 years old.

 

Max sat by Crystal's bed and placed ice packs around her sides to keep the fever down.

 

They sat in silence for awhile.

 

Max remembers breaking the silence.

 

"I told her I would switch places with her if I could." But he couldn't. "So I promised to help find a cure, so that no other family had to go through what we went through," says Max. "I told her if I ever made any money, I would give back."

 

Walter Longo, MD has never forgotten Crystal Carney, though she died in June, 1987. Longo took care of Crystal during her bone marrow transplant at the UW Carbone Cancer Center after the leukemia relapsed.

 

"She was a beautiful, vivacious girl, top of her class, with such a promising life ahead of her," remembers Dr. Longo. "How could I forget her?"

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Longo spoke with the Carneys often during Crystal's treatment for AML, and developed a good rapport with the small town family of eight from rural Readstown, Wisconsin.

 

Still, Longo didn't expect to hear from Crystal's brother Max 24 years later. He didn't expect that Max would declare his intention to donate $1 million to the Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant program at the UW Carbone Cancer Center.

 

And he certainly didn't know of the promise Max made to Crystal before she died.

 

"I just looked for Dr. Longo's contact information online and gave him a call," says Max of the day he reached out to the doctor who tried within all his power to save Crystal's life. "It was time."

 

For Max, it was time to act, and time to keep a promise he made long ago.

 

The $1 million gift, spread out over ten years, is only the beginning for Max, UW-Madison class of 1990 and his sister Kim, who both live in Chicago. There, they plan to fundraise for leukemia treatment and research at the Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant program at the UW Carbone Cancer Center.

 

"This is a way for our family to forge a long-term legacy for Crystal," says Kim, who graduated from UW-Madison just days after donating her bone marrow to Crystal in 1987. "I look forward to building on my recent experiences raising money for national organizations."

 

Dr. Longo is grateful for the gift from the Carneys and the renewed connection he has with the family. He also knows the gift will go towards good use, making it easier for patients to go through the protocol to get transplants.

 

"We hope to cure leukemia some day," says Longo, "but in the meantime, we can keep more people from losing the battle to this terrible disease."

 

With his 24 year-old promise to Crystal now fulfilled, Max says he is eager to continue his relationship with Dr. Longo and the transplant program.

 

"I feel we are finally going to turn Crystal's tragedy into something positive."

 

It's a feeling that was a long time in the making, but one that will live on for years to come.