After just five years into her new position as a business and marketing teacher at George Washington High School, Andrea Seitchik was forced to take a leave of absence when a 15-year-old disease caught up with her.
A Langhorne resident and teacher of 25 years, Seitchik was diagnosed with kidney disease a decade and a half ago. Now, her friends, family and even former students are helping her find a donor - often using the same sort of skills she teaches.
Seitchik kept quiet about the disease for years as she taught junior high and took classes to receive her certifications to teach a broader range of classes at the high school level. She didn’t show any symptoms and didn’t want to be treated any differently, she said. But the “secret” got out when her condition worsened dramatically last year.
“Over the past year, I could feel a difference in my body,” admitted Seitchik. “I couldn’t do the things I used to do, but I would do them anyway.”
Finally, late last year, she was diagnosed with stage 5 kidney failure. It’s the point where the kidneys can no longer remove waste and toxins, causing these substances to build up in the person’s bloodstream.
Whereas most people’s health slowly deteriorates, Seitchik said she plateaued for a while before taking a sudden turn for the worse: “I got so sick I could barely move my arms.”
She stopped working in November, went on dialysis and was finally eligible to get on the donor list for a kidney transplant. But, the wait often takes up to five years unless someone donates one directly to her.
Now, Seitchik and her family are using the latest communication tools to help find a donor and also keep the dedicated teacher connected to others.
Her daughters Lexi, 23, and Madison, 17, created a Facebook page that now has more than 1,300 “likes” as people publicize her search. And, Seitchik still participates in school events like National Honor Society meetings using the iPhone app FaceTime.
“Thank God for social media, I get to keep in touch with everybody,” she laughed.
But, all that new technology hasn’t completely replaced old-fashioned solidarity and publicity.
To help raise awareness of their mother’s search, Lexi and Madison created Fight for Andi bracelets that they’re currently selling at Neshaminy High School, where Madison attends.
They’ll be on sale soon at Washington, too, but not before a new addition to the school’s dress code.
Earlier this month, principal Gene Jones approved a Fight for ANDI shirt as part of the school uniform. Created by Seitchik’s marketing club at the school, the shirts bear the name of the school on the front along with Fight for ANDI, and “O Positive” on the back.
The Seitchiks have also received help from former students like Corey Sharp and Jaitin Brahmbhatt. A former honor student at Washington, Sharp said that once he and Brahmbhatt found out about their former teacher they immediately wanted to help.
“She lit up the classroom with her smile and her energy and all the things she did,” he said. “Now that she’s in need, it’s our turn to give back to her.”
Sharp and Brahmbhatt started calling radio and television stations, and soon Seitchik’s story was featured on NBC 10 news and FOX 29’s Good Day Philadelphia.
“If 10,000 people as opposed to 2,000 know about it, you’re increasing your chances of finding a donor,” said Sharp.
Already, the Seitchiks have heard from a few people who are currently being tested to see if they’re a match. And, according to Lexi, the most surprising, and amazing, support has come from people they never saw coming.
“It really helps when people message from the Facebook page,” she said. “We get people - total strangers - who say, ‘I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. Is there anything we can do to help?’ ”
And, as all those people come to her aid, Seitchik becomes more and more confident things will get back to normal.
“I can’t wait to get back to work. I miss the kids,” she said. “I’m thankful for everyone who has supported me, and I look forward to getting stronger each day.” ••