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Jessica Bucher, 12, who has an extremely rare, life-threatening disease with no known cure, known as Juvenile Onset Sandhoff Disease, looks up at her teachers during a visit at Pine Hollow Middle School in Concord, Calif., on Thursday Dec. 3, 2009. The school raised around $9,000 for Jessica where each student paid a $10 entry fee for the two-mile fun run/walk on Thursday. People can make donations to help Jessica by making checks out to Pine Hollow PTSA. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

CONCORD — To students at Pine Hollow Middle School, "compassion" was more than just a word of the month they studied in class.

It was a feeling they showed for 12-year-old classmate Jessica Bucher by raising more than $8,000 to help her family pay medical bills accumulated in treating a rare, life-threatening disease. More than 300 students and employees ran two miles Thursday in a "Jog 4 Jessica" that physical education teachers organized.

"It really does show that middle school kids do have compassion, which was our word of the month in November," Principal Shelley Bain said. "I'm just extremely proud of all their efforts and really happy that Jessica was able to come out and participate."

In December 2008, Jessica was diagnosed with Juvenile Onset Sandhoff Disease, after physical education teachers noticed that her running gait was abnormal and speech pathologist Laurie Arbour observed that her speech was beginning to slur severely. Jessica's parents took their daughter to the Thomas Jefferson Lysosomal Disease Testing Laboratory in Philadelphia, where they learned she was not producing an enzyme that prevents poisons from entering the brain.

She received a bone-marrow transplant from umbilical cord stem cells in January at Duke University and has been recovering since then, said her mother, Cynthia.

"She's making the enzyme," Cynthia Bucher said. "She's doing better every day. It's been a phenomenal response. She came home basically bedridden and now she's almost walking without assistance."


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Jessica, who has been studying at home since the transplant, said she enjoyed coming back to campus and seeing her friends.

"It was really cool that the students would do this," she said. "I feel good."

to donate
The Pine Hollow Parent Teacher Student Association is accepting donations for Jessica Bucher's family at 5522 Pine Hollow Road, Concord, CA 94521. Information is at 925-672-5444.