Hero sister gets free NASCAR vacation
May 19, 2018 06:54 AM
Jenna Dumanski wants to be a NASCAR driver — almost as much as she wanted to save her brother’s life a few years ago — and that was quite a lot.
The Joyce Kilmer Middle School seventh-grader is obsessed with the sport, watching and going to as many races as she can.
Over Memorial Day weekend, she will be doing just that — and then some. She is being treated to a special “dream come true” vacation to attend the Coca Cola 600 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, and other NASCAR-related activities as the guest of Capt. Alan Lee of the Concord Police Department.
Though she can’t drive yet, the 12-year-old intends to pursue a career as a NASCAR driver later in life. And Jenna isn’t your ordinary auto-racing loving pre-teen. Her young life has already seen enough drama and trauma, albeit with a very happy ending.
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Shortly after the birth of her brother Tommy in December of 2013, the newborn fell ill in January 2014 — and just wasn’t getting better.
“We were admitted to the hospital for two different stays in February. After the second stay, he had severe pneumonia and it would not go away,” said Jeannette Dumanski, Jenna and Tommy’s mother. “I wasn’t settling with them saying that the mass on his lung from the pneumonia would just disappear. So we sought a second opinion at CHOP. “
Two months later after many tests, the infant was diagnosed with Chronic granulomatous disease (CPD), a rare hereditary disease in which certain cells of the immune system have difficulty forming the reactive oxygen compounds used to kill certain ingested pathogens.
Simply, Tommy was not able to fight off infections.
The only way to save him was with a bone marrow transplant. Both Jenna and younger sister Hailey, now 10, were tested. Jenna came up with a 10 out 10 perfect match for her baby brother. Her parents told Jenna, then 8 years old, of her match and let her decided if she wanted to go through with the bone marrow donation.
“I automatically thought ‘Yes,’ because I wanted to save my brother’s life,” Jenna said. “And if I could do that, I would always do that. It depended on me to save his life. He is extremely special to me.”
Jenna donated her bone marrow on August 27, 2014 and the next day Tommy received the lifesaving transplant. Now four years old, Tommy has no recollection of his illness. All of his tests have come back with positive results. There is always a chance of a relapse if he loses his engraftment, Jeannette Dumanski said.
Jenna, like her mother and Tommy, is a carrier of the disease. But her being a carrier and a donor outweighed the options of having a non-sibling donor.
“He is healthy, he is good. He can play outside and enjoy everything a little four-year-old boy can because of the super marrow,” Jeanette Dumanski said. “All he knows is that the scar where the central line went in looks like a gecko and he says ‘Nenna gave me life through there.’ We have appointments where we go back and forth, but he has no clue why.”
Jenna did not stop her donating with the bone marrow. For CHOP, she hosts Jenna’s Drive, an annual toy drive for the children on the oncology floor.
Jenna was first introduced to NASCAR racing watching the Daytona 500 at a neighbor’s house.
“I kind of fell in love with it,” Jenna said. “The next week my dad said the race is on again and I had no clue that there was more than one race. From that point on, I watched the race every weekend. I think it’s entertaining and it gives you so much thrill and excitement. It’s always a lot of fun.”
Last year, Jenna, was tasked with a sixth-grade math project of designing a dream vacation. She could go anywhere, said her mother, who dreamed of places such as Fiji. Jenna’s choice — the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“North Carolina is like the capital of NASCAR,” Jenna said. “It’s where almost everything is. Instead of going somewhere else, I decided to go there. I knew I would get to see a race and do a bunch of fun things involving NASCAR.”
Jenna said her itinerary created for the project was “a lot.” Besides the Speedway, it included key places, restaurants and activities such as Waffle House, Dave and Buster, Hendrick Motorsports, Breakfastime Family House, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Jimmy Johns, Lake Norman and the Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters for whom Kevin Harvick, Jenna’s favorite driver, races.
Coincidentally, Tommy’s nurse practitioner, Anne Wohlschaeger’s brother Jeff Wohlschaeger is a marketing director for NASCAR in Daytona. Once he learned about Jenna’s NASCAR obsession, he gave the family accessibility to go to races, paying their own way. Through this opportunity, Jenna attended a few races and met Harvick. It was through this contact with Jeff Wohlschaeger that an article on Jenna and her dream vacation was written by Pat DeCola for NASCAR.com. Jimmy Johns also got a hold of the article and had the Dumanskis come to Daytona last June.
After Jenna’s backstory and her dream trip in the article published on NASCAR.com, Sgt. Lee of the Concord Police Department couldn’t get the little girl out of his head.
‘I thought, ‘I’ve got enough connections. I’m going to make this trip happen’,” said Lee, who reached out to DiCola via social media. “I’m going to get her down here somehow, someway.”
The “someway” has involved many local businesses, donors and the Concord police department, all working together to make a school project dream a reality.
“I was touched by the story,” said Lee, who added that the Speedway is within his police department’s jurisdiction. “I also have a daughter named Jenna who is about that age. Jenna talked about her love of NASCAR and that her dream trip was to come down here and see a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I was fortunate to have been born and raised right here and have been going to see races at Charlotte Motor Speedway since the mid-’70s.”
Calling the Speedway the “greatest place on earth to watch a race,” Lee felt that anyone who is a NASCAR race fan “needs to see a race there.” The surrounding area is home to many race teams, shops and drivers who host a variety of opportunities and activities. Most of all, Lee said the atmosphere surrounding the events and the races at the Speedway is “electric.”
Lee intends to fulfill as many of the dream vacation’s itinerary as possible, with additional surprises along the way. The whole Dumanski family will be the guest of Lee from May 24 to 28.
“She really did her research,” he said. “That was really cool. I thought she really needs to come see it now.”
About a month ago when Jenna was told that her dream trip would happen, the would-be driver said she started crying.
“I never thought that would actually happen,” Jenna said. “I’ve been counting down the days in my head ’til I get to go and I’m really excited.”
“I may be more excited than Jenna,” Lee said. “I just can’t wait to get her down here and see her and let her experience the place. I feel connected to them already. We’ve generated a lot of support here for here and so many business and people have stepped up, including my department. Yeah, I’m super excited.”
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