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Mom Gets Her Final Wish to See Her Twins Graduate

Jennifer Reckner didn’t think anything of the fluid that started to cause her legs to swell. It seemed like another symptom of getting older. When she didn’t seek treatment for the condition, the buildup started reaching her stomach, then her lungs.

When Reckner eventually made it to the doctor, they had to take 100 pounds of fluid weight out of her body, but the damage had already been done. She was diagnosed with amyloidosis.

Her last wish was to watch her twin sons graduate from high school. The boys donned their caps and gowns before receiving their diplomas from Navarre High School while in the hospital with their mother.

Reckner fought the disease for more than a year before succumbing to it on April 1, 2022. The family has set up a Go Fund Me.

Dozens of People Showed Up for the Ceremony

“She got to that point where she realized there were not many things she was going to get to see happen,” said Stephen Reckner, Jennifer’s husband of almost 23 years. “Those are her babies.” [1]

The hospital played “Pomp and Circumstance” on a Bluetooth® speaker for the 17-year-old brothers as they walked down the hospital hallway in the ICU unit. They donned caps and gowns, kissed their mom, and were presented with their diplomas.

It was a moment when everyone in attendance didn’t know whether to cheer, clap, or cry, so many people found themselves doing all three.

High school officials coordinated with Covenant Care’s My Wish program to make Jennifer’s final wish come true. [2]

The twin boys each had a cake after receiving their diplomas.

Jennifer went through multiple chemo and dialysis treatments to try to temper the disease, but the late diagnosis took a massive toll on her body. The only way to diagnose the condition is to undergo a biopsy, where a doctor takes a small bone marrow sample or tissues from an organ to examine under a microscope.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Amyloidosis?

Amyloidosis is a rare condition that typically affects men more often the women. The signs and symptoms can include feeling tired or weak, swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, or belly, tinging in the extremities, and easily bruising skin. [3]

Another form called ATTR can be inherited from a family member and create a similar result from a protein made in the liver.

Some people get purple spots around their eyes, experience shortness of breath, and have their tongue size increase.

As the condition progresses, amyloid deposits can hurt any organ.

Why Is Amyloidosis Treated with Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is often associated with cancer treatments, but it can also help with amyloidosis. Chemo can stop the growth of cells that make the abnormal protein in people with some versions of this disease.

Some people respond well to a bone marrow transplant, although finding a direct match isn’t always possible.

The Food and Drug Administration has recently approved multiple medications that work to stabilize the affected protein for those with TTR-based amyloidosis. That stops the associated plaque from depositing in the organs.

For most people, the goal of amyloidosis treatment is to slow its progression, reduce symptom impact, and prolong life. The median survival without treatment is only 13 months, and only 5% of patients live beyond ten years after diagnosis. [4]

It’s caused by fragments of the amyloid A protein damaged by abnormal changes to plasma cells. Since the body doesn’t know how to process them, they tend to accumulate in the body’s tissues until they cause harm. [5]

Since several forms of amyloidosis exist, which is why it can be challenging to diagnose the condition early.

Jennifer made the decision to donate her organs for research in the hopes that she might be able to help someone down the road.

“Any of her friends will tell you,” said Stephen, “that she’d do anything for you.” For her boys, getting to graduate while she could participate is a lifelong memory they’ll cherish.

References:

[1] https://www.nwfdailynews.com/story/lifestyle/2022/04/06/hca-fort-walton-destin-hospital-hosts-graduation-patients-sons/7249894001/; [2]https://weartv.com/news/local/mother-witnesses-final-wish-of-watching-twin-sons-graduate-from-navarre-high-school; [3]https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/amyloidosis; [4] https://www.medscape.com/answers/1967220-166626/what-are-the-mortality-rates-of-cardiac-amyloidosis; [5] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amyloidosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353178

Photo of the Reckner Family at Hospital Graduation.  Courtesy of HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital

Photo Above: Jennifer Reckner's sons embraced her after receiving their diplomas in the hospital.  Photo Courtesy of HCA Florida Fort Walton-Destin Hospital

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