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Community rallies behind Pleasanton city worker diagnosed with rare illness

GoFundMe campaign for Ben Jacobs has raised nearly $1,000 per day

An online fundraising drive that formed barely two weeks ago has yielded more than $12,000 so far for a Pleasanton city worker with a rare cancer-like illness.

Friends and family set up the fund to help cover medical expenses for Ben Jacobs, a utilities systems operator in the city's Operations Services Department who was diagnosed a couple of months ago with myelodysplastic syndrome.

Jacobs told the Weekly that he and his family have been "overwhelmed by the people who are helping us" by whatever means possible.

"I'm just so grateful and thankful and blessed to have everybody reaching out in any way they can," Jacobs said. "It's more than money; the money's not the big deal. It's everybody reaching out and making sure I'm OK, my family's OK."

Myelodysplastic syndrome is "a group of disorders caused by poorly formed blood cells or ones that don't work properly," according to the Mayo Clinic. Conditions occur from "something amiss" inside the patient's bone marrow, where blood cells are made, and causes fatigue, anemia and frequent infections due to a low white blood cell count. Patients are also at risk of developing leukemia.

Chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant are the usual forms of treatment; in Jacobs case, he needs both.

"He's got a heart of gold and all of us are rooting for him to pull through this," Kelly Richards, one of Jacobs' co-workers, told the Weekly.

Richards and other colleagues have been busy drumming up awareness about the GoFundMe campaign, including planning a benefit barbecue dinner on April 13. The fund is the latest one started to benefit a city employee facing costly health battles; community members have helped raise more than $114,000 since November for Pleasanton police Officer Kyle Henricksen, who is also undergoing cancer treatment.

Funds for Jacobs will be spent on travel, medical and other expenses during the 100-day period when he will undergo treatment at Stanford University.

In that time, Jacobs will start Vidaza, a type of chemotherapy that works by increasing blood counts and which sets the stage for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Jacobs' own stem cells will first be wiped out by a strong dose of chemo and then replaced by donor cells.

"I won't be able to be around my children very much those three months due to the fact of the bone marrow transplant knocks out my immune system," said Jacobs, who lives in Antioch and has worked for the city of Pleasanton for almost 11 years. "It just knocks my immunities down to pretty much nothing."

After 30 days in the hospital, he will need to live within 30 minutes of Stanford and receive aftercare for another 70 days, possibly requiring two residences due to his vulnerable condition while in Palo Alto.

The GoFundMe campaign benefiting Jacobs had raised $12,135 toward its $50,000 goal, as of Tuesday evening, in support of Jacobs, his wife and three children.

For those unable to contribute financially, Richards said they are encouraging people to sign up with the bone marrow registry. "The more donors that are in the system, the easier it is to find somebody," she said. "It's a swab kit so it's nothing invasive. You just send it in and become an active member of the registry."

To make a donation to the Ben's Fight Against Cancer fund, visit www.gofundme.com/ben039s-fight-against-cancer-mds. For more information about the National Marrow Donor Program, go to www.bethematch.

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