United in Courage

There are some brothers and sisters that share a special bond, but not many are as meaningful as the bond between Mark and Sara Pilarski of Hampton, PA.  They share the knowledge that they have both faced life threatening and potentially debilitating conditions, but have somehow managed to survive.

When Mark was in 6th grade, his father thought he was suffering from a cold.  But when Mark began bleeding from the mouth at an alarming rate, it turned out to be something much more serious.  Mark had Steven Johnson Syndrome, a potentially deadly skin disease that attacks the mucous membranes and causes the skin to peel off in sheets.  Mark’s case was so severe, that he wasn’t expected to survive.  He experienced burns inside his body that resulted in him choking on his own flesh.

What started with an upper respiratory infection turned into a battle between life and death.  Thanks to the support of his family, and a wonderful team of doctors, he got through it, but it will never be completely over for Mark.  He battled internal burns six times in the six years following the first occurrence, and knows he has to be on constant alert for it to happen again.  But that doesn’t deter Mark.  He says, “I have learned that each day is a gift, not a given right.”

A few years after Mark’s diagnosis, the Pilarski’s were enjoying a family vacation in South Carolina, when Mark’s younger sister, Sara was stung by a Portuguese Man-of-War.  She was in terrible pain, but says those stings are probably the best thing that ever happened to her.  In October 2010, during basketball practice, Sara lost her vision completely for 30 minutes.  The fact that she had been stung previously led doctors to perform an MRI on her immediately.  What they found wasn’t related to the sting at all, but it was terrible news for Sara and her family.  Sara had a brain tumor in the right orbital lobe, and although it was determined to be benign, it was buried so deep that the doctors had no way of checking it further without surgery.

Yet in spite of Mark’s struggles with SJS, and Sara’s constant vision issues, headaches, and dizziness from the tumor lodged in her brain, they both continue to be standout basketball players at Hampton High School.  They both wear number 50, and that is done on purpose.  It’s a way for them to feel close, because these siblings know they share a lot more than a number on their back.

When we heard about Mark and Sara, we knew we had to do something special for the Pilarskis.  We sent them to Florida Key’s in order to enjoy a deep sea fishing adventure together as a family. While Mark hooked into a 500 lb Honey Shark during the rough weather, Sara and her mother enjoyed jet skiing and pampering at the Cheek Resorts and Spa. They were able to reconnect, have some fun doing what they love, and enjoy the gift of another day – together.