Jackie Celske has lived for several years with constant, chronic pain.
The persistently optimistic Augustana College alum has endured eight major surgeries, countless tests and procedures, life-threatening infections, expensive hospitalizations and unsuccessful exploratory treatments (often not covered by health insurance).
“Not only have her physical symptoms debilitated her and robbed her of the life she deserves, but the mental toll of advocating for herself alone, missing out on opportunities and the financial stress of medical bills continue to weigh heavily on her and those who love her,” Celske’s sister Jessica Andress wrote for the GoFundMe campaign she recently started, which has raised $18,040 to cover her ballooning medical expenses.
Celske, 34, has been battling a host of chronic autoimmune diseases for more than 16 years.
“If you have had the privilege of knowing her personally, you know how hard it is for her to ask for help when she needs it,” Andress wrote for the GoFundMe page. “She has given so much of herself to her family, friends and community over the years — now it’s our turn to give back to her.”
Last December, Celske was a leader in the Junior League’s second-annual Little Black Dress Initiative (LBDI) — to do more to normalize discussions on mental health, increase access to critical services in the Quad Cities, and foster a more intentional awareness of how gender biases impact mental health treatment.
About half of the 30 active Junior League members (she’s a former president) participated in LBDI, to raise money for the Vera French Foundation and its Women’s Mental Health Endowment Fund, to help with long-term mental health services for women in the QC area.
Moved to Florida to find new doctors
Five months ago, Celske made the difficult decision to quit her PR job with MindFire Communications, and move to Florida to find new doctors after her specialists in Iowa City had run out of ideas, leaving behind her home, her friends, her life and ultimately her career.
Since quitting her job, Celske has undergone two major surgeries — one to remove stage 4 endometriosis that was dominating her pelvis and abdomen so severely that it was pushing her organs out of place, and another to replace a neuromodulation device on her spinal cord with a more progressive machine.
“We all believed the new diagnosis and treatment plan would be the answer, but unfortunately Jackie has experienced no symptom or pain relief,” Andress said.
“Yet, in true Jackie fashion, she wasn’t ready to give up,” she said, noting she researched and connected with oncologist and hematologist, Dr. Dipnarine Maharaj, in Boynton Beach, Fla.
Founder of the Maharaj Institute of Immune Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Maharaj conducted extensive studies on Jackie’s stem cells and cellular function and diagnosed Jackie with Immune Senescence.
“This means that Jackie’s immune system is aging and deteriorating at a much higher rate than it should be for her age, leaving her with too few natural killer cells to fight off infection,” Andress said.
“The low count of natural killer cells that she does have are only functioning at about 20-25% compared to the normal efficiency range, so any viruses and bacteria that enter Jackie’s body cannot be properly fought off and are now infiltrating her nervous system,” she said.
“This leaves her entire body in a constant state of inflammation that wreaks havoc on literally every bodily system and can explain her unpredictabe symptoms and unresponsiveness to traditional treatments. We are confident this is the root cause of the majority, if not all, of her health concerns.”
The good news is that Dr. Maharaj has a treatment plan and is hopeful that the damage in her immune system can be reversed through a combination of IV infusion therapies and injections of the IL-2 protein needed to activate her natural killer cell function, Andress said.
The bad news is that the treatment is not covered by health insurance and is going to cost Jackie a minimum of $65,000 out of pocket before she can get started.
On Monday, her friend Erin Burgess shared the donation link on Facebook, posting: “Her heart for people is incredible as is her record of volunteering to serve vulnerable populations. Take a sec to read her story and share or donate!”
“It has definitely been a rough journey. I’m trying my best to stay positive and keep moving forward,” Celske said Monday night. “I’m so ready to get better and get back home to my awesome community!”
On Facebook Monday, she wrote: “I don’t know how I will ever find the right words to adequately thank all of you who have supported me, financially, physically and emotionally. Thank you for sharing this link. Thank you for every card and text and call. Thank you for your quiet prayers.
“Most of all, thank you for choosing to believe in this treatment, with me and for me,” Celske said. “Thank you for grabbing my hand and taking a scary big leap of faith. Thank you for filling my heart back up with hope when it was beginning to feel like I had none left.”
To donate to the GoFundMe, click HERE.