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Community unites to 'ball for a cause'

By Greg Gelpi

They don't even know her, never even met her, yet they came together as a community to help raise funds for her lung transplant.

That's the "real" story, said Trish DeMarcus, the sister of Erin O'Neal, who is in need of a transplant.

Pointe South Elementary School teachers came together and held the school's first "Balling for a Cause" student-parent and teacher basketball game to benefit two lung transplants: one for teacher Tamra Robinson and the other for DeMarcus' sister Erin O'Neal.

"When it comes to asking people for money, it makes me nauseous," DeMarcus said. "They didn't even let me do anything with it. They just took it."

She began by passing around a letter to faculty members, explaining the need for help with paying for the $300,000 transplant, and teachers took the initiative to take it from there, helping raise thousands of dollars for her cause through the charity basketball game and raffle.

O'Neal, a resident of Macon, suffers from emphysema and has about 13 percent lung capacity, DeMarcus said, describing it as breathing through a coffee straw with her nose closed.

She's on a waiting list for the transplant, but must meet a financial requirement in order to get it, her sister said.

Robinson, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, spent nearly three years dragging an oxygen tank around, while remaining in the classroom at Pointe South Elementary and continuing to remain upbeat before going on medical leave this school year.

"It didn't stop her from heading up programs and giving her all," teacher Jimmie Dukes said.

Teachers at Pointe South pointed to Robinson's faith as the reason she was able to keep going and stay optimistic.

"The bottom line is my faith in God," Robinson said. "It was difficult, but it was my faith in God that kept me going."

"Love," third-grade support instructional assistant Lavone Head said. "We just felt the overwhelming need to do something. You could feel the love that night."

Fellow teacher Marsha Lawton, who went to college with Robinson in Chicago, said that over the years Robinson's "love has grown outward more than inward."

She remains happy "even though she's in pain," Lawton said. "She gives love, but doesn't expect it to return."

"People had smiles," Lawton said. "They were cheering."

Nearly a thousand people turned out for the game with "adrenaline flowing" Head said, adding that the students won the game.

Dukes said that the school hopes to hold "Balling for a Cause" every year, raising funds for different charities each time.