Jack Cloonan’s Story | Marty Lyons Foundation

A survivor and his family give back to the foundation that helped them

Client: Marty Lyons Foundation
Industry: Non-Profit
Video Type: Brand Awareness
Messaging Type: Interview-Based

About This Video Project

Jack, diagnosed with biliary atresia at six weeks, defies grim odds with three life-saving liver transplants. After one of his doctor’s recommended looking into the Marty Lyons Foundation, Jack’s wish for a bedroom set and desk was fulfilled. Now thriving as an EMT in NYC, even after battling leukemia in his high school years, Jack and his family continue to give back by volunteering for the foundation.


I was born with a liver disease called biliary atresia which meant my bile duct didn’t work. I was diagnosed at six weeks old. The doctor said your best bet is to go home and concentrate on your other baby because this baby’s not gonna make it to his first birthday. That was when we met Dr. Kessler and he said we can try to get him a transplant. He found out University of Chicago would take us and then they listed him for a transplant. We were out in Chicago for two years while he underwent the three liver transplants he eventually had. Liver number three he didn’t do well. And they told us he wasn’t gonna make it. He was in something they called humeral rejection where his whole body is being attacked not just the liver. They’ve only had two other patients who had this type of rejection. Both died within 24 hours. He was in ICU. They told us to make the arrangements to fly his body home, plan the funeral. Then that night they came to us in the intensive care unit and said we spoke with some researchers in Germany and we have something we’d like to try. They explained to us he was getting plasmapheresis. They were going to remove all his blood a little at a time and replace it with new blood. So four days he was on this machine and each day that he survived they were surprised. The doctors kept coming in and coming in and coming in. Jill and I finally asked them at one point why are all these people keep coming in and one of them finally said to us but they’re trying to figure out why this worked. We were stunned, they were stunned and he survived. Defied all the odds and he was just a little boy he wanted to watch videos and play with his brother. When we left the University of Chicago for the last time we tried to have a normal life. We had our older child Christopher at home. Jack was still in and out of the hospital. We had to interview pediatricians and we couldn’t find one so we were referred to the Huntington Medical Group which is where we met Dr. McDonough. I first met Jack and his family around the time that he was in preschool. My wife actually was a grant wisher for the Marty Lyons Foundation back at that time so I had a pretty good familiarity with the organization. After speaking to Jack and to his family I thought that they would be a good fit. They agreed so I went forward and made a referral to the organization for him to hopefully be able to participate in a wish. We were surprised because he had already gotten a wish with the Make-A-Wish Foundation when he was two and a half years old. We were not familiar with the fact that Marty Lyons grants second wishes and he was accepted for this wish. Jack was not well enough to travel so it was a bedroom set and a desk. He had bunk beds just for himself. He said the bottom one was for when he was got his migraines or when he was sick because he was then closer to the bathroom but the top one was special when he was having his good days he could lay up there and he had it for many years. I have a lot of fun memories TV mounted to the wall kind of hanging out. I would have friends over do like regular normal stuff that I never really got to do. They had the annual Marty Lyons Christmas parties and one of the things both Jack and Christopher enjoyed was there would be a lot of athletes, jets, a lot of Mets. When they got there there was a big giant poster board with the athletes picture on it and they could go down the line get a picture taken get the poster board signed. It was an event for the whole family rather than the focus always just being on the child who was ill they didn’t forget the brothers the sisters. Both boys came away from the Christmas party feeling great. Christopher as a sibling he was a part of the Marty Lyons family he loved those Christmas parties. It’s so nice that Marty Lyons recognizes it and that recognizes there was a whole family behind the child not just the child itself and not just the illness and Marty Lyons tries to ease the pain so and it did. The Christmas party was like the greatest thing and if you’re going through all these medical struggles and negative stuff then just one positive awesome fun experience that feels like the greatest thing ever just resets everything and gives you hope again and then you take that and it’s like oh what else is out there that I could do and now it’s like oh nope all right I got to get healthy because I got to enjoy life instead of just sitting in a hospital bed. Jack is doing extremely well right now he is an EMT in New York City. He lives his life to make his donors proud to help others and to give back what better way to do that than to help people and we couldn’t have been more proud. Jack is a great role model his resilience throughout all of this is really something special I’m just happy to see Jack be happy there’s a long period of time obviously when he had a lot of pain and suffering and to see him get to the point where he is and his life is something special. The Marty Lyons Foundation is a amazing organization that as you know grants wishes to sick children it’s hard to explain what that does to a family going through everything that we’ve been through and other families have been through. Jack’s wish was granted years ago we got older and closer to retirement we were looking for a few different causes that maybe we could help out so this one was always in the back of both mine and Jill’s head. We’ve been the recipient of many graces and many gifts and many kindnesses over the years so being part of an organization that cares about these families and goes above and beyond for them why not give back. I did my wish granting training in the spring and I can’t wait to grant the first wish it’s so exciting to maybe see that smile on the child’s face and the family’s face and the siblings faces because they’re all gonna get something happy out of it. If I can do anything to help I’m gonna push that because we know what it did for us and let’s do that for others as well. It’s almost like when your child is that sick you’re living in a hole but when your child is granted that wish it’s like somebody reached down into that hole pulled your family out and you saw the light you’re not just writing a check to a charity and hope it goes somewhere it does go somewhere it goes right into the heart in to the families that really need it that really can use that the moment of joy. People don’t realize it’s not just money you’re giving them reason to live.

To learn more: https://www.martylyonsfoundation.org

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