By Cheryl Conway
There is a huge billboard on the eastbound lane of Mt. Pleasant Ave. in Livingston, right across from Pizzetta.
On that billboard, Livingston’s number one agent at Coldwell Banker, Ellen Gonik, is helping to spread awareness about blood cancer and the growing need for blood stem donors. For those who drive by the bulletin board, stop and take a picture to tweet, post and share the billboard on Instagram or Facebook, through the Warter Strong Awareness Campaign. The bulletin board will be up through the end of October.
Donations toward the campaign are also being accepted at https://www.giftoflife.org/dc/warter, in an effort to raise funds and awareness toward blood stem research so more cancer victims can receive transplants and beat the disease. All proceeds go the Gift of Life, a national, not-for-profit registry facilitating transplants for patients in the United States and abroad.
The campaign is in honor of Dr. Oren Warter, of Livingston, who had a bone marrow transplant in Feb. 2015 after being diagnosed with Acute Myologenous Leukemia (AML) in 2014. Warter, a father of three who worked as an anesthesiologist at Morristown Memorial Hospital, died at the young age of 45 in Aug. 2015 from unrelated complications, adds his wife Barbara Warter of Livingston.
Warter created the Warter Strong donor circle in 2014 to help fundraise to purchase kits for stem cell providers through the Gift of Life.
“We needed a bone marrow transplant,” explains Warter, after her husband’s diagnosis. “The only chance to beat it [AML] was through a transplant. Leukemia, it’s in the blood; only way to try it is to give them a brand new blood making system.” Her friends and neighbors helped create Warter Strong through the Gift of Life to help fundraise. They raised nearly $50,000 in their first campaign, which was used to cover the costs to get cells tested and for the kits that cost $60 each to process and enter into the registry.
“Warter Strong fighting the fight and raising awareness to becoming a stem cell donor,” was their motto.
Although her husband died from unrelated complications, Warter Strong lives on and continues to raise awareness and dollars. Warter’s friend, realtor Ellen Gonik, decided she wanted to make a donation toward Warter Strong to the Gift of Life in order to offset costs to those joining the registry as blood stem donors.
Gonik decided to use her advertising billboard to raise awareness, with the new promotion up since Sept. 22.
“I usually do something humorous,” says Gonik, with her paid billboard. “This time I decided to use the space to promote this charity. I wanted to bring more attention to the charity. I want the word to spread.” She also plans to make a large donation toward the Gift of Life charity and asks others to donate as well.
“We’re trying to raise money for cancer research,” says Gonik, whose three girls grew up with Warter’s three boys, Ryan, 16; Zachary, 12; and Jake, 8. “We raised our families together. We re neighbors, we are friends. It’s a very tight community.”
Zachary, who is preparing to becoming a bar mitzva in December, is using the bulletin board as his mitzva project to raise awareness and encourage others to take a picture or make a donation to support Gift of Life.
“Take a selfie, take a picture of the billboard to raise awareness of becoming a donor,” says Warter, a speech pathologist. “Give someone the chance at life.”
In November, Warter is planning a second Bone Marrow Drive at Binghamton University in Suny, N.Y., in honor of her husband who was a founding father of Tau Epsilon Pau (TEP) Fraternity.
While there is no cost to run the drive, kits cost $60. Warter’s goal is to raise at least $6,000 during the six week campaign to help pay for 100 kits.
“We want their stem cells, we want their health,” says Warter. “It’s a tribute to my husband; it’s a tribute to my family. It’s challenging sometimes; I have three boys. It keeps us moving forward. No matter what life gives you, you still pay it forward.”