(Left) Tasha Edwards, Site Expansion Coordinator at StemExpress and her cousin (Right) Allie Pomianowski

Tasha Edwards, Site Expansion Coordinator at StemExpress, fondly remembers her cousin Allie as a vibrant, bubbly and courageous young woman who could light up a room with her beaming personality. “She was super smart and had a ton of friends,” said Tasha.

Allie made friends everywhere she went, but after spending one semester at Sonoma State, she missed the familiarity of Felton, her hometown buried in the Santa Cruz mountains. She moved back home, enrolled at a junior college and started working at a preschool while she figured out her next steps. At 19 years old, her future looked bright until life took an unexpected and tragic turn.

In April 2009, bad weather factored into a horrible car accident that broke her neck, specifically C1 – C3, the first three vertebrae of her spinal cord. Despite receiving months of critical and intensive care to address the severity of her injuries, she was paralyzed from the chin down and never regained movement of her body. Additionally, Allie needed a tracheotomy to help her breath which impacted her ability to speak. For those who knew her best, Allie relied on their ability to read her lips and understand her facial expressions in order to communicate.

Allie, Tasha and their entire family had an extremely strong bond. Several family members got tattoos with words describing how they felt about Allie. Tasha got “unbreakable” tattooed on her foot to signify Allie’s strength. They supported each other and never lost hope that someday she would walk again.

“In 2010, we were aware of some of the first stem cell injections that were being used to treat spinal cord injuries,” recalls Tasha. “That was inspiring because it gave us a little hope.”

But unfortunately the research was not far enough along and it was not an option for Allie. In January 2013, at 23, Allie passed away from organ failure.

The experience that Tasha and her family endured strongly influenced some of their future decisions. One cousin received his PhD from Texas A&M and included stem cell research as part of his studies, and for Tasha, it led her to StemExpress.

“When my previous job was relocated to Texas, it was time to look for something else. As I started looking for a new job the word ‘stem’ in ‘StemExpress’ caught my eye. If it weren’t for Allie I would have never looked twice at a job like this.”

Tasha joined StemExpress in 2018. She feels Allie’s unbreakable spirit with her every day and is honoring her legacy by being part of an organization that supports medical research. Tasha reflects, “I feel like things could have been different for Allie if research could move along faster. She was just one person, but so many people were hurt.”

With Tasha’s drive, passion and commitment to honoring Allie’s memory, things will be different.