Friends come together for benefit concert for Joni Eickhoff – Grand Island Independent

When Dianne Schneider found out her friend and fellow parishioner Joni Eickhoff was trying to raise money to pay for an unconventional medical treatment for her pulmonary cystic fibrosis, she knew what she had to do perform a concert.

Schneider, who is a longtime music minister at St. Marys Cathedral, didnt think she would ever say that. But a few years ago, Eickhoff encouraged Schneider to record a CD of her music with fellow musician Claudette Sekutera. The CD of contemporary Christian music was recorded in 2012 and half of the funds raised by the sale of the CD have gone to benefit St. Marys Cathedral.

She would always come up and say how beautiful the music was and she was the one who always told me I should record a CD, Schneider remembered. She just wanted so much for me to do a concert back then, but I didnt really want to. I dont know if it was that I didnt want to draw the attention to myself or that deep down I didnt think anyone would come.

When Schneider saw the flyer in church asking for donations for Eickhoffs GoFundMe account, she thought differently.

I kept thinking about it and thought that this is the time for a concert because now it has a purpose, she said.

The benefit concert is scheduled for 3 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Marys Cathedral. Besides Sekutera, Schneider will perform with Amy and Andy Schneider, Jeanne Allen and Sue Stueben. There is no charge to attend, but a freewill offering will be accepted. A group from Woodmens Insurance has offered to match the proceeds. Schneider will also be selling her CD Gratitude for $10, with half of those proceeds going to Eickhoff as well.

Eickhoff was more than just a little surprised by Schneiders offer.

You talk about tears that come down, Eickhoff said. Shes just one of a kind. Shes my guardian angel.

Pulmonary cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that causes thickened mucus to block airways, making it difficult to breathe.

Diagnosed in 2015, Joni had all but exhausted conventional medical treatments when she and her husband, Ramon, learned about stem cell treatments at a pulmonary clinic in Dallas, Texas.

The cost was prohibitive, though, as the procedure was not covered by Medicare or insurance. The Eickhoff family set up a GoFundMe account to raise $11,000, which included the cost of transportation to and from the clinic. They posted a flyer at St. Marys Cathedral and shortly after that, Eickhoffs husband was approached by another parishioner who offered to cover the entire cost.

The Eickhoffs accepted the offer on the condition that they be able to pay back the gift. The donor agreed and Joni underwent the procedure on April 20 and has been steadily improving. Since the treatment, her husband said, she has gone from being able to take 56 steps without oxygen to 101 steps without oxygen.

Each time we do a walk test without oxygen, her recovery time has gone to five or six minutes, where before it was only a couple of minutes, he said.

It was very successful, Joni said. All I did was sit in a chair.

Eickhoff said drawing the blood at the clinic was a six-hour procedure over the course of two days, three hours each day. When she asked her doctor when she could expect to see results, the doctor told her three to six months.

Im just doing so good, she said, after just a little over three months. Of course, when I talk, it takes a lot of air.

Eickhoff and her husband have been so encouraged by her results, they want to spread the word about stem cell treatments. Ramon said there are five similar clinics in the United States and they advertise an 82 to 83 percent success rate.

If you can do the stem cell treatment, you can be off oxygen, Joni said. There are 150,000 people that are dying that dont have to.

Colleen Gallion is the associate editor of the West Nebraska Register.

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Friends come together for benefit concert for Joni Eickhoff - Grand Island Independent

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