By Kayla Douglass
At 22, Jaime Spiak-Eller never anticipated that her life would be altered so abruptly and completely. But it led her to forge a new path, with a new goal. Spiak-Eller graduates from Old Dominion University's College of Arts and Letters in May with a degree in fine arts and a concentration in three-dimensional design and art history.
She met her husband, Meade Eller, in February 2016 and recalled how he changed the course of her life, giving her a new purpose. Spiak-Eller described Meade as the person who "changed my life for the better. He taught me confidence and independence."
However, shortly after meeting Meade she learned of his battle with cystic fibrosis, an inherited and often fatal disease. He underwent a bilateral (double) lung transplant, and while that did not offer the curative effect that they had hoped for, she stood by him.
When it became clear to Jaime and Meade that nothing more could be done to halt his deteriorating lung function, they decided to marry. On Jan. 19, 2019, the day after Meade's 28th birthday, they married and were together until his death on June 21 , 2019.
Fighting cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects the lungs and digestive system, became a life's mission for Spiak-Eller.
"I just want to make a difference, to change the lives of all these young people born with cystic fibrosis, to give them a chance at life," she said. "It's my goal to continue fighting ... raising money toward finding a cure."
With help from her intermediate ceramics professor, Rick Nickel, she became involved in pottery sales held in Webb Center to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Nickel said ODU's annual student pottery sale usually donates proceeds to ForKids, a local charity that helps families and homeless children. But the focus shifted for last year's event after Spiak-Eller approached him.
"I thought it was a great idea as Jaime was facing the personal struggle of a husband afflicted with the debilitating disease," he said.
Using her story to inspire others, Spiak-Eller's fellow ceramics students volunteered their time and art in Meade's honor. Since spring 2019, Spiak-Eller has organized and contributed artwork for multiple other sales, including Jerry's Artarama Artapalooza, Night of the Arts at the Plot and the NEON Festival Art Exhibition Pottery Sale and Fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Nickel, ODU art education student and ceramicist Holly Graves and alumnus John Brown, have volunteered at every sale, which have raised more than $700.
"I was happy to see that in the face of such overwhelming circumstances we could use our art skills and work toward an end to such an awful disease," Nickel said.
Spiak-Eller is committed to carrying on with her efforts.
"It's my goal to continue fighting in his honor, raising money towards finding a cure, so that no other family, no other young husband or wife, mother or father, sister or brother, ever have to go through the pain of losing the person they love to this awful disease," Spiak-Eller said.