When she was 8 years old, Sydney Martin began selling the necklaces she made from the rocks that she collected from the shores of Lake Michigan, saving up her money for something “important.” Two years later, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH). After intensive treatment, including chemotherapy, Sydney make a full recovery and discovered her important cause — she would work to find a cure for LCH to help other kids going through the same experience. Since then, the now 18-year-old college freshman has raised and donated over $430,000 to fund medical research on the disease through fundraisers and sales of her rock necklaces!
When she was first diagnosed at age 10, Sydney says, “I didn’t understand how serious it was.” LCH normally affects young children between ages 5 and 10 and the potentially fatal disease can cause organ damage, terrible rashes, and bone lesions. “All of it happened in the span of two or three weeks,” she adds. “One day it was a CT scan, then two days later I was having the biopsy. Within a week, they put a port in my chest and then we started chemo treatment.” After six months of treatment, she was fortunate to have a successful recovery but says, “I’m now 100 percent healthy and so grateful for that. But it’s not that simple for a lot of other kids, it could take years, they could be unresponsive to treatment or relapse.”
Since LCH is rare, affecting approximately 1 in 200,000 people, it’s considered an orphan disease, meaning that it’s not a high priority disease for government-funded research. Research for treatments or cures for such rare disorders often relies on support from individuals and foundations — and this is where Sydney decided that she could make a difference. Her family and friends starting wearing her necklaces as a show of support while she was undergoing treatment and, she says, “it just clicked.”
“It was just such a natural way that we decided to raise the money for LCH research,” Sydney explains. “At first, we were selling them through my house and through school, on a very small level. Then I ended up reaching out to a few local boutiques, and they started selling them. And it just grew from there!” She formed the Giving Rocks Foundation, better known as Syd Rocks, and donates all the proceeds from her sales and fundraisers to medical research — an astounding $425,000 in total. In discussing her drive to find a cure, Sydney explains: “I felt helpless going through it all, like my world was flipped upside down. So I just took it into my own hands and made the best of what I was going through.”
Dr. Kenneth McClain, an expert on LCH at the Histiocytosis Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, applauds Sydney’s dedication: “A lot of people start to raise money and once they get better they lost the energy. Sydney is not only continuing it, but she’s improving it – she’s still going strong, developing new venues.” For her part, Sydney plans on continuing her work toward a cure in college and is even setting up Syd Rocks student organization on campus. “I’m excited to bring Syd Rocks to my college campus and hope other college and university campuses get involved too,” this determined Mighty Girl says. “I’m not giving up until a cure for LCH is found.”
Kudos to Sydney for her tremendous generosity and dedication to helping others