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A Passion for Giving Back

We take a look at one local couple’s tremendous work in helping to find a cure for cystic fibrosis

There are people in our community who go above and beyond to help others. They’re always there to lend a hand or provide support when it is most needed. Their selfless commitment and acts of kindness do not go unnoticed, even when they prefer to humbly stay behind the scenes. Rosemary and Jim O’Neill are the epitome of living their lives to help others, in particular, those living with cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes lung infections and limits a person’s ability to breath over time. This disease hits close to home for the O’Neill’s, who saw firsthand how it affected their neighbor's children. “Our neighbors, Janet and John Brendel, have three children, two of which, a son, Paul, and daughter, Olivia, are living with CF,” says Rosemary. “Growing up, my kids, Zac and Madison, and the Brendel kids were close in age and were best of friends.”

Rosemary and Jim, seeing just how debilitating the disease can be, knew immediately that they needed to do something. “God blessed us with two healthy children, so in my heart and in my husband’s heart, we wanted to do whatever we could do to help these children living with cystic fibrosis,” she continues. “Janet and John Brendel introduced us to the CF Foundation’s Western Pa. Chapter, and all of the events that are held each year to raise money and awareness of this disease, in the hope to one day find a cure.”

For the last ten years, Rosemary and Jim have been the co-chairs of the Foundation’s annual “A Passion for Wine” Gala. “Jim and I have had an incredible journey working alongside the gala committee and CF’s Western Pa. Chapter to put on this amazing event,” she says. In these ten years, the committee has raised approximately $1.8 million for the CF Foundation, including $200,000 alone from this year’s gala.

This year’s gala was made even more special because Rosemary and Jim were given the Passion Award for their work in helping to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. “It was extremely emotional because Olivia Brendel gave a wonderful speech before our children, Zac and Madison, and son-in-law Tim, presented us with the award,” says Rosemary.

This honor concludes the couple’s tenure as co-chairs of the event. “Jim and I are still going to be on the committee and do as much as we can, says Rosemary, but we want to pass the co-chair baton onto the younger generation so that they can carry grow and carry on the work that the committee has done up to this point.”

While there is still no cure for cystic fibrosis, there have been great strides to treat patients living with the disease. In October of this year, the FDA approved a triple combination therapy called Trikafta for people with cystic fibrosis who have at least one copy of the most common mutation. With this tremendous breakthrough, more than 90% of people with CF could eventually have a highly effective therapy for the underlying cause of their disease.  

For Rosemary and Jim, each day is a gift and they don’t take anything for granted. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘you love, you live, and you give,’” says Rosemary. "My husband and I love our lives, live them to the fullest, and while we can, we love to give back.”

Today, Olivia Brendel, now 23, and Paul Brendel, 30, are both living their lives to the fullest as well. They’re still great friends with Rosemary and Jim’s kids, and are still fighting to find a cure for cystic fibrosis.

Ultimately, as Rosemary and Jim have demonstrated, if we all work together, we can all make a difference, and one day, we will find a cure for cystic fibrosis.

For more information on how you can help locally, visit the CF Foundation’s Western Pa. Chapter website: Cff.org/WesternPA/

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