Polar-Plunging with a Purpose: Friar Honors Friend’s Legacy by Raising Donations
by Kyle Burgess ’21
Annie McMahon was not like most kids her age. Very few of them could claim to have hosted Chrissy Teigen or Michelle Williams in their home, let alone receive videos from the entire cast of The Office, the Jonas Brothers, and Whoopi Goldberg to name a few. At the same time, few people can imagine what it is like to survive two double-lung transplants, which McMahon underwent by the age of 22, having been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a child.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system. McMahon enjoyed a relatively normal childhood despite this early diagnosis, until the end of high school, at which time her health gradually declined.
The two transplant operations she underwent during this time proved fruitless as her body experienced organ rejection and, despite being approved for a third transplant, her condition worsened and she passed away this past summer before she was able to undergo treatment.
Watching her friend’s health deteriorate before her eyes became too much for Caroline Finn ’20 to bear. She became determined to raise McMahon’s spirits in any way she could, having grown up with McMahon who was Finn’s childhood best friend’s cousin. However, because McMahon was over 18 years old at the time of her operations, the typical charities such as Make-A-Wish would not consider her condition. Finn would have to think outside the box.
“I started to reach out to celebrities, either through the agency information I could find online or just through social media and asking if they would be willing to make an encouragement video for Annie,” Finn explained. “Less than a day after sending my first emails to celebrity management, I received a video from Steve Carrell from The Office, which was Annie’s favorite show.”
Videos from other celebrities began to pour in from the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Andy Cohen, Jimmy Kimmel, Gwen Stefani, Zendaya, the Kardashian sisters, and Adam Levine to share their support for Annie during this difficult time in her life. “She lived two months beyond her doctor’s prognosis and we all say that the celebrity love is what kept her going for a little while longer,” Finn revealed.
Eventually, McMahon’s brushes with fame began to attract national media attention. The duo soon found themselves on programs including Good Morning America and featured in coverage from E! News, People magazine, USA Today, and the New York Post.
This year, to honor McMahon’s legacy, Finn participated in the annual Rockaway Polar Plunge, with the money raised at the Plunge in McMahon’s honor going towards the Annie Fund. The fund is a memorial fund set up by her family and administered by Help Hope Live to help with uninsured costs for cystic fibrosis patients going through lung transplants and medical crises.
The plunge began in 2000 by the McMahon Family, shortly after McMahon was diagnosed with CF, for the purpose of raising funds for research of the disease as little government investment is put into finding a cure. Now in its final year, the plunge has raised nearly $2,000,000 total in the 20 years of its existence with 550 participants attending this year.
Finn reflected, “Now that Annie has passed away, it is so important to me to keep up her fundraising and advocacy efforts in her honor. What I really want to share with the PC community is how they can help and keep Annie’s memory alive by donating to Annie’s Memorial Fund administered by Help Hope Live. Every dollar really makes a difference and it means so much to all needing organ transplants.”