Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) O’Neill met her now-husband, Ted, at a West Village apartment one summer night after college. Five years later, he proposed. Though they married on the East Coast in 2017, their wedding gifts made an impact halfway across the country in her hometown.
Lizzie O’Neill has always known the importance of giving back. Her mother, Susan Rechter, is an alumna of Jewish Hospital School of Nursing (a legacy school of Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College) and a former operating room nurse. In 2012, Susan and her husband, Joe, a former Foundation board member, established a scholarship fund at Goldfarb School of Nursing through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital to help other nursing students provide excellent health care to the community.
“Since I can remember, my parents taught me and my sister the importance of philanthropy and giving back to the communities and organizations that shaped us,” Lizzie says. “My parents have always been advocates of education and health care, and through their example of generosity and passion, I have also become a supporter.”
Her path toward health care philanthropy began one evening in the spring of 2015. She thought she was having an allergic reaction as she watched her arm begin swelling. But it was much more serious. Lizzie ended up in the emergency room at a New York hospital where doctors discovered a 14-inch blood clot in her right arm that moved to her lungs and created a pulmonary embolism.
She was later diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), a rare condition caused by the compression of nerves that control muscles and sensation in theshoulder, elbow, wrist, and hands. After many active years of rowing, skiing, and tennis, a vein that runs between Lizzie’s top rib and clavicle had collapsed, causing the blood clot.
Over the next few months, Lizzie would need five emergency surgeries to remove blood clots, and, ultimately, to remove her top rib.
Through it all, talented, compassionate nurses were at her side.
“When I was in the hospital, I was not allowed to stand, I had multiple IVs and had my blood drawn every six hours every day for about eight days,” Lizzie says. “The nurses who took care of me were so kind and kept me thinking positive. They would hang out with me and listen to music, give me sponge baths, and told me not to give up believing that I would get better.”
The kindness and compassion of these nurses—and the example her parents set—had a lasting impact on Lizzie and Ted that extended to their wedding day. “When Ted and I began talking about our wedding, I expressed that I have everything I need in life,” Lizzie says.
“Instead of asking for wedding gifts, I wanted to give back to those who helped me.” They decided to ask wedding guests to make donations to the nursing scholarship fund in her family’s name at Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College to support the education of aspiring nurses.
“Ted and I decided that raising money to help future nurses pursue their education would be the most meaningful wedding gift,” Lizzie says. “Life is complex, surprising, and precious. If we can find ways to help one another, even in the smallest ways, we can make life a wonderful experience.”