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Aidan Project raises awareness

Jennifer Metz | Monday, December 4, 2006

Diagnosed with cancer on Sept. 25, Notre Dame sophomore Aidan Fitzgerald was forced to miss the majority of the fall semester, but he returned to campus this weekend to take part in an event created in his name to raise awareness about cancer in young adults and youth.

The Aidan Project drew more than 200 participants who sat on the floor of the LaFortune Ballroom from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to make fleece blankets and hats for a local cancer unit at St. Joseph’s Memorial Hospital.

The finished blankets, displayed on a table at the entrance of the ballroom, were tied with a tag that read, “The Aidan Project. This blanket was made with love and with care, for each who receives one knows it comes with a prayer.”

Sophomore Chris Esber, Fitzgerald’s roommate, said he and his friends were “shocked” to find out that their 19-year-old friend had cancer. They started the project – which was sponsored by Circle K, Knott Hall and the Class of 2009 – to raise awareness about cancer, especially cancer that affects young people.

“The situation was definitely on [Esber’s] mind … he couldn’t believe it happened to his roommate,” said Jake Teitgen, a Circle K member. “We decided we had to do something.”

Teitgen, along with fellow Circle K members Cigi Low and Nicole Koors, helped Esban organize the Aidan Project.

“We did the blanket project last year with Circle K,” Esber said. “This year we’ve made [the collaboration] bigger, responding to this situation.”

Koors said organizers put up more than 100 posters in residence halls and LaFortune to publicize the event.

“This is the first time I had heard about someone in our age group developing cancer,” Teitgen said. “This project is all about awareness and prevention.”

The ballroom’s walls were covered with posters providing statistics about cancer mortality and survival rates and the importance of awareness. T-shirts were also sold to benefit Riley Hospital for Children, a children’s cancer center in Indianapolis.

More fleece arrived around 1 p.m., so the final hour of the event was a fury of blanket-making, which Fitzgerald said he was thrilled to witness.

Fitzgerald, who said he loves Notre Dame football, was able to make it back for a few games earlier in the semester. He helped coach the Cavanaugh Interhall football team, and is a member of Knott’s Interhall football team.

“I didn’t know what to expect … my roommate put this together,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m almost speechless … it means a lot to see people come out [for the cause]. I know a lot of people here, but there are also a lot of people I don’t know. It’s been full wall-to-wall in here, which is so encouraging.”

Koors called the turnout “exciting.”

“[The event] grew a lot from the [Circle K] Blanket Bash last year,” she said.

Teitgen said the organizers ordered double the supplies they did last year, and “ran out … which was awesome.”

“We did so much better than last year,” Low said. “It’s amazing to see this many people come out and support the cause … [that] hit so close to home.”

For freshman Erin Dolan, who played under Fitzgerald for the Chaos, the loss of a well-liked coach was taxing.

“Mid-season, [Fitzgerald] had us take a knee … we all thought it was going to be an inspirational speech. Instead, we found out he had cancer,” she said. “Almost the whole team started to cry.

“After he left, we really missed his humor and sarcasm and all the positive things he brought to the team. … I’m so glad to see that so many people came out to help this cause and support Aidan.”

And Fitzgerald said he couldn’t appreciate it more.

“I can’t imagine going through this without all this support,” he said.