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Norwin fourth grader continues collecting 'Smiles for Grandma'

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
(c) 2012 Aaron Loughner
Maddie Buscemi, 9, with her grandma Jerilyn Johnson, who has leukemia. Maddie started 'Smiles for Grandma' to collect scarves for her grandmother who had leukemia. She gives the scarves to others sufferings from the same disease. A blood drive was held at the New Hope Church in North Huntingdon on Saturday. Aaron Loughner | For The Norwin Star
(c) 2012 Aaron Loughner
Maddie Buscemi, 9, with Penny Whalen with some of the scarves collected. Maddie started 'Smiles for Grandma' to collect scarves for her grandmother who had leukemia. She gives the scarves to others sufferings from the same disease. A blood drive was held at the New Hope Church in North Huntingdon on Saturday. Aaron Loughner | For The Norwin Star

Jerilyn Johnson's leukemia diagnosis in December surprised her family.

“I'd been sick for a couple weeks and thought I had the flu, but it just wouldn't go away,” she said. “When they did some blood work, the doctor told me he had bad news – my white blood cell count was off the charts.

“I nearly rolled off the bed when he told me that.”

Immediately after the diagnosis, doctors began Johnson's chemotherapy treatments, which required her to stay at UPMC Shadyside hospital in Pittsburgh for about a month, she said.

When her granddaughter, Madison Buscemi, heard her parents, Michael and Kelly Buscemi, talking about her treatments, she wanted to do something for Johnson, especially after she expected to lose her hair.

“They were talking about doing something for Grandma, and I wanted to help,” Madison said. “I was going to knit her a scarf, but it took too long, so I decided ask for donations instead.”

During a blood drive on Jan. 12, Madison collected approximately 85 head scarves from blood donors.

Each day, she receives several scarves from members of the Norwin High School Student Council, Kelly Buscemi said.

Next, Madison plans to turn to her classmates at Sunset Valley by holding a scarf drive during the week of Jan. 28.

“I'm surprised and happy to see so many scarves,” Madison said.

Kelly Buscemi said once Madison delivers the scarves, any leftovers will go to local nursing and personal-care centers.

She said she hopes Madison's contribution helps lift the patients' spirits.

“Sometimes, on their journey, something like this could help them get through to the next stage,” Madison's mother said. “All they really need is a little kindness and love.”

Each scarf could help brighten someone's day and allow the person to feel more confident in her appearance, Johnson said.

“It's especially disheartening for a woman to lose their hair,” Johnson said. “For someone going through this, if they don't want to wear a cap or feel like their head is exposed to the world, putting on a fancy scarf could make them feel a little bit better about themselves.”

Madison plans to continue collecting scarves for cancer patients at UPMC Shadyside's Hillman Cancer Center, which she expects to deliver on Valentine's Day.

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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