Janice Schwartz Donahue can still revel in her daughter Jessie’s life, despite Jessie’s premature death.
Jessica Beth Schwartz, a Rydal, Pa. native and Abington High School graduate, got a little “bloaty” from the heavy-duty meds she had to take following a heart transplant, Schwartz Donahue joked during an event at The Capital Grille. Born with congenital heart disease, Jessie was given the gift of life after a 14 year struggle when she received a heart transplant with the heart from a 16-year-old boy from Northeast Philly who died in a car accident in 1994.
Over the next eight years, Jessie faced health obstacles on all sides. Her body had rejected the transplant and she had to take medicine to treat that rejection for the rest of her life. The meds, though, were immunosuppressant, meaning they made the young woman susceptible to sickness.
Despite repeated stints in the hospital, Jessie, Janice said, was still able to be a relatively normal girl. “She even fell in love,” she said.
After graduating from Harcum College on the Main Line, Jessie went on to study journalism at Temple University, but she passed away from heart failure caused by rejection on March 31, 2003.
Jessie was creative and loved art. Her “cathartic” artwork, as her mother describes it, was moving. Jessie’s color-blocked self-portrait with a prevalent red heart on the abstract figure’s left side is the logo for the year 12th Annual Jessie’s Day “Dollars for Scholars,” a laid-back, “beer-and-brisket” style silent auction held to raise money for the Jessica Beth Schwartz Memorial Scholarship.
“It should be a fabulous event,” Janice said as she encouraged the crowd to check out the websites of the bands — The Sermon! and Brian LaPann — set to perform at the scholarship fundraiser.
Established the year she died, Jessie’s Day gives $2,500 scholarships to pediatric transplant recipients to help them balance the financial, emotional and physical strain associated with organ transplants.
“I was inspired by [Jessie’s] determination to get a degree,” Janice said. Jessie was big in the transplant community and always motivated to share her story with others, which is partially why she decided to major in journalism in college. When news came about her death, money began to pour in, Janice said. Unsure of what to do with the gracious funds, Janice researched and discovered there were no children's scholarships for transplant recipients. And so, she decided to create one.
Jessie’s Day has given away $100,000 to date and is ready to expand even further, so this year’s celebration plans to make the charitable event a staple in the Philly party scene.
Jessie’s Day is a silent auction where attendees can enjoy live entertainment, an open bar, and a chance to win a Sandals Resort vacation. The event takes place Sunday, Sept. 14 from 1 p.m until 4 p.m. at the Urban Saloon on 2120 Fairmount Avenue. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased at jessiesday.org. Unable to make the date but still want to participate? Donations can also be submitted to jessiesday.org.
In addition to the silent auction fundraiser, from August 21 until August 24, The Capital Grille in Center City will donate $1 to Jessie’s Day for every Stoli Doli purchase.
Quoting the famous poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye, Janice described her outlook on her daughter’s legacy: “Don’t stand at my grave and weep. I’m not there. I don’t sleep,” she said.
The lively party raises money for a cause for which Jessie felt so passionately. “She liked to party,” Janice said, and, in Jessie’s honor, this party is sure to be a good time.