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Tony Tschirren's eyes watered for most of Sunday morning, but it wasn't smoke in the firefighter's eyes. The Neligh man was simply overcome with emotion.
Nearly 650 people attended a benefit Sunday at the Neligh Fire Hall for Tony and Julie Tschirren, offering emotional and financial support for the family.
"On behalf of my family, I would like to say thank you to everyone who attended or contributed to my benefit. A special thank you to Neligh Fire Department and Wade and Carrie Pitzer for everything you did to make the benefit happen. I would also like to thank my family and close friends who have been there for us since my diagnosis. It was overwhelming to see the support and prayers we have received not only from people in my community, but surrounding communities also. Thank you again and God bless," Tschirren said.
Hosted by the Neligh Fire Department, 35 active firefighters served pancakes, eggs and sausage to raise money for Tschirren, a 15-year firefighter and member of the Neligh-Oakdale Jaws of Life. A silent auction was held in conjunction with dozens of items donated from local businesses and community members - everything from a pedal tractor and iPad mini to hunting rights and a ride in the Husker Helicopter.
Tschirren, 36, has been diagnosed with essential thrombocythmia, a rare blood disease that causes too many platelets to be produced in his bone marrow. The disease causes clots to form in blood vessels and can cause serious health problems, including a stroke and heart attack. A blood cancer, essential thrombocythemia, significantly increases the chances of developing leukemia, according to medical journals.
Tschirren is currently on medication for the disease and expects to be for the rest of his life since there currently is no cure for the disease. Funds raised will be used for Tschirren to seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic to improve the prognosis. Tschirren said his first appointment is scheduled for March 5.
"The fire department is very appreciative of all of the support and generosity of the people," said Mike Mortensen, Neligh Fire Chief.
Tschirren - who lives in Neligh with his wife, Julie (an active EMT), and children Kenzi, 13, and Bradyn, 10 - was diagnosed with the disease several months ago. In mid-September the 36-year-old Neligh man, who is a superintendent with the Nebraska Department of Roads, began feeling fatigued and was diagnosed with West Nile. Blood tests showed elevated platelet counts, which reached nearly 2 million per microliter (normal is 150,000 - 400,000).
After several weeks of more tests, essential thrombocythemia was determined to be the cause of the elevated platelets.