About a month ago Turlock Junior High School seventh grader Jeremiah Coghill started feeling ill. He was weak, had random nose bleeds, and was sleeping 20 hours a day and he had lost 15 pounds.
His parents, Miles and Erica, grew extremely worried and after numerous visits to oncologist it was discovered his spleen was critically inflamed. Further tests at UC Davis and Stanford University, ranging from spinal taps to bone scans, led to a diagnosis of an intense, severe case of auto-immune defiency disorder. Similar to AIDS — but not contagious nor life threatening in and of itself — the disorder makes it difficult for Jeremiah’s body to reject viruses and heal itself.
Jeremiah is no stranger to health issues, as an infant he had a rare form of cancer in his eyes. He lost vision in his right eye and he is down to a 20-degree field of vision in his left eye. Eventually he will almost certainly go blind and he has been learning how to read Braille.
In a tragic case of bad timing, Jeremiah’s father was laid off from his job in December and the family of six — Jeremiah has three siblings — has struggled financially. Miles receives unemployment, but the weeks of traveling to and from the Bay Area and Modesto have sucked their finances dry. While the family is covered under Medi-Cal, Erica says it fails to cover certain medications and antibiotics. Paying out of pocket and travel expenses have forced the Coghill family to make sacrifices. Jeremiah’s siblings won’t be able to participate in football and cheerleading because the family doesn’t even have enough money to buy groceries on a consistent basis.
The Coghills, and especially Jeremiah, face an up-hill battle but they aren’t going to make the climb alone. The Turlock Junior High School community has rallied behind Jeremiah and his family.
Starting April 1 his classmates at TJHS will begin a three-week long “penny war,” dubbed “Just for Jeremiah.”
A penny war is a unique from of fundraising. The TJHS student body is divided into eight teams and each team will have jars for putting pennies into a pot. Pennies themselves count for the overall total money donations, but silver coinage and paper money count AGAINST the total sum raised. So team ‘A’ could raise $12 in pennies but then team ‘B’ could put $12 in bills into the pot, forcing team A to have a $0 balance in the “Just for Jeremiah” fundraiser.
The idea behind the penny war is that the more competitive the teams are the more money that is raised. If each child at TJHS donates $10 the student body alone will raise $12,400.
“The money could really help us with expenses like gasoline, groceries and Jeremiah’s medications and antibiotics that aren’t covered under Medi-Cal because they don’t have a generic, “ said Erica. “Jeremiah is grateful for the kids at his school. There are families that he doesn’t even know that send him gift cards and get well cards.”
One of Jeremiah’s teachers, Barbara Swier, said a special account has been set up with the Bank of America. People wishing to donate can visit any Bank of America location and donate under account number 18347-68154, listed under “Just for Jeremiah.”
“Jeremiah is a bright young man who has been handling his challenges with incredible grace. It isn’t easy coming to school and having the disadvantage of not being able to always participate in the same way as one’s peers, especially in junior high where peer pressure can be high. He is a normal junior high boy, and he handles everything so well that most students on campus have not even been aware that he is basically blind,” said Swier.
Currently, Jeremiah is on home and hospital and a teacher comes to his house to help him with his studies. In spite of all his medical problems, he remains committed to his studies and on his last report card he received straight As.
“He has continued to be successful in school and he was worried about how he was going to make up the work he has missed while he has been out,” said Swier.
On campus Jeremiah is well liked by his peers and he is known for his sense of humor and having a kind, gentle personality. “I miss having him here,” said Swier.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141, ext. 2015.