After 35 years of shaping the lives of Philadelphia School District students, teacher Andrea Seitchik sits in her Langhorne, Bucks County home, outside of her classroom.
And not by choice.
"Teaching is my entire life. Since I was a little girl I wanted to be a teacher. I love being around children and touching their lives and watching them grow. It's an amazing feeling," said Seitchik, 57.
Seitchik is a vibrant business and marketing teacher who receives high praise from her former and current students. For the past five years, she's taught at George Washington High School in the Northeast. This year, she's coordinating the junior prom and advising students in the National Honor Society club.
"She's one of the most beloved teachers in the building. She's a remarkable person, one of those bright spots that makes my day a lot easier," said George Washington principal Gene Jones.
Seitchik has been sidelined by a health problem she's dealt with quietly for 15 years. But now the wife and active mother of two needs a new kidney and that's a hard thing to hide.
Her oldest daughter, 23-year-old Lexi, describes her mom's struggle on her Facebook page, "She has been hiding it for years because unlike other diseases, it doesn't show. She walks around with the biggest smile and has never stopped this from living her life to its absolute fullest."
Just a few weeks ago, Seitchik told students and administrators that more than a decade ago she was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) and that her condition had recently worsened due to the scar tissue in her kidney. Her immediate outlook was emergency surgery and dialysis -- indefinitely -- until she can acquire a new kidney.
Her current and former students rallied around her once they heard. Five 2012 graduates sent her flowers. After the gesture, they decided they wanted to do more to give back to the teacher that had given them so much.
While Seitchik's daughter Lexi awaits word on whether she is a compatible match to donate a kidney, student and relatives started the search for a donor via social media. They launched a FIGHT for ANDI Facebook page to and started using the hashtag #FIGHTforANDI on Twitter to amplify their cause.
"I couldn't believe it because I've seen her every day with a smile on her face. I never knew. She's taking it on now with a smile on her face too and ready to battle," said former student Corey Sharp, 18. He attributes Seitchik with inspiring him to study sports marketing at Holy Family University and to get involved in charitable work.
Within a week of Seitchik's admission, one of her coworkers lost her son in an accident and offered to donate his kidneys to her. Unfortunately, they were not a match. So, Seitchik remains on the donor list and has been told she may have to wait four years or more.
Acquiring an organ donor is no easy task.
Less than 800 people out of 43,000 people who die are potential donors. That's 2 percent. Of the people who consciously choose to donate their organs when they die, the number that actually become potential donors is low because the donor must be brain dead in order for their organs to be harvested, according to Gift of Life Donor Program president Howard M. Nathan.
The Gift of Life Donor Program facilitates all organ donations in Southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware. In 2013, the organization facilitated the coordination of organ transplants from 447 donors resulting in 1,228 organ transplants. Half of them were kidney transplants.
Presently, in our region, 6,391 people are waiting for an organ transplant via Gift of Life and 5,335 of them are waiting for a kidney. Although the wait list for organ donation can be long, the Gift of Life program facilitates the largest number of organ donors anywhere in the United States and has the highest per capita organ donor rate anywhere in the world, says Nathan. This year, the non-profit celebrates 40 years of helping save lives and has conducted a total of 36,000 transplants and 500,000 tissue transplants.
Former student Jatin Brahmbhatt understands just how hard it's going to be to find a match for Seitchik. He feels getting the word out is the least he can do to repay his former teacher who helped him acquire enough community service hours for him to graduate in 2013.
"She's the nicest person you are ever going to meet," said Brahmbhatt, a student at Temple University.
Seitchik started her dialysis last Wednesday. She's trying to adjust to her new routine but hopes to work out a treatment schedule so she can get back to teaching this month. Her students have motivated her.
"These kids are giving back. I'm so thankful and overwhelmed by it. They wonder why I became a teacher. It has been a very emotional couple of weeks," said Seitchik. "It's a remarkable feeling."