Charity Atkins looked up from her phone – away from another painful text message – with tears in her eyes.
She was helpless against a disease that was literally taking pieces of her best friend’s life and body.
Since the first of the year, Kallie Kassner has spent seven months in a hospital at Stanford University receiving treatment for Crohn’s syndrome, an inflammatory bowel disease she has lived with for 12 years now.
The 2002 Manteca High graduate has been administered steroids to fight infection, endured multiple surgeries and recently had her colon removed.
The 29-year-old was set for another procedure when she sent Atkins – a friend since they were 2 – a text message.
“I don’t know what else I can do for her,” Atkins told her mother, Candace Haskell.
The desperation in Atkins’ voice was palpable. The two had already formed prayer groups at Crossroads Grace Community Church and Son Dance Ministries, but wishful thinking and faith alone weren’t going to cover Kassner’s mounting medical costs.
Haskell suggested a benefit of some sort and quickly arranged a partnership with businessman Joe Mashni, who owns the Baskin-Robbins franchise at 970 North Main Street.
The ice cream benefit is Thursday, Sept. 26, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Baskin-Robbins.
“I’ve got four daughters and it really hit home,” Mashni said. “I told (Haskell) we’d be more than willing to help in any way we can.
“The people of Manteca have been great to me. I bought the store a year and a half ago and it’s been doing great. I want to give back … I want to give back to the community.”
Mashni has agreed to donate 20 percent of the store’s sales during those hours to Kassner’s medical costs. Atkins and Haskell will also use the time to spread awareness.
Kassner, who is home now but wasn’t available for comment Tuesday, will also attend.
Awareness is crucial, Haskell says, because Kassner was originally misdiagnosed. She began to experience symptoms as a sophomore, but wasn’t diagnosed with Crohn’s for two years.
Crohn’s disease may affect as many 700,000 Americans, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of American, and it strikes men and women equally.
It commonly affects the small bowel, but may attack any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus, according to CCFA.
Though Kassner is staring down the worst of Crohn’s disease, she remains in high spirits.
“She’s been amazing – totally amazing,” Haskell said. “You don’t know someone until they go through something like this. In all honesty, it’s been harder on her mom (Robin Kassner).”
Still, Kassner’s life has stalled while she’s struggled to fight this painful disease. She is scheduled for another surgery in December. “We are hoping that her next surgery … will be her last and that she will be able to move on from this,” Atkins said.
Kassner is a pharmacy technician at the Rite Aid adjacent to Baskin-Robbins, but her condition hasn’t allowed her to work in nine months.
Haskell also says the disease has affected many of Kassner’s relationships.
“When I try to get people to understand what it’s like to live with that disease, I tell them imagine being 29 and single and having this disease. It’s every girl’s nightmare,” Haskell said.
“Socially, it’s had an impact on her. We’ve embraced her, but there are those that can’t handle it. She’s lost some friends in this. That’s the part we get upset about.
“This has been the worst year for her.”
Atkins and Kassner have been friends for 27 years, and at times, they’ve been inseparable.
“It’s very hard to watch my best friend go through this,” she said. “… What’s hardest for me is that Kallie is still so young and going through this and she has so much life ahead of her. She has hopes of getting married one day, and this disease has put her at a standstill, and she isn’t able to move on with her life.”