Why We Exist

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why-we-existLife sometimes takes you down a path you didn’t plan. Just when you think you know where you’re headed,  is usually when life throws you the pitch you weren’t prepared for. My curve ball came October 26, 2006, just four weeks before the fairytale wedding I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. Just the evening before, my father and I had spent hours on the phone discussing all the details, including the very song that would play as he was walking me down the aisle. I had no idea that my life was about to change forever.

At 10:13 the following morning, I was getting ready for a huge presentation at work when I received a call from my brother in Florida. When I answered the phone, he barely could get the words out to tell me that something bad had happened to Dad. He wasn’t sure what had gone wrong, but whatever it was had landed him on life support and he wasn’t expected to make it through the night.

Within seconds I had gathered my computer bag, purse and car keys, headed straight for the airport where I bought the next ticket to Florida. I had no suitcase, no extra clothes, not even a toothbrush – whatever I needed, I would buy when I got there. The only thing that mattered was getting to Dad as fast as I could. The flight to Florida seemed like eternity and it wasn’t until I arrived to the hospital that we discovered Dad had experienced a ruptured brain aneurysm, a blood vessel in his brain had burst, leaving him unresponsive, brain dead, with no chance of recovery. Within hours, I was handed my father’s death certificate and leaving the hospital trying to make sense of what had just happened.

As weeks went by, emotions cycled and reality set it, I wanted to know all I could of the enemy that took my father’s life, so I researched every medical journal I could get my hands on. Not only did I find there was a lack of funding for aneurysm research, but also discovered that aneurysms effect as many as 1 in 50 Americans. Innocent men, women and even children fall victim to this fatal disease.  It was then that I knew I had to do something to bring awareness to this devastating condition and help the patients and families who are struggling just as I was.  This was the beginning to the greatest venture of my life.  The Joe Niekro Foundation™ was established to provide resources and education for patients and aid in the research, treatment and awareness of Brain Aneurysms, AVMs and Hemorrhagic Strokes.

This journey has been one of the greatest of my life – it has allowed the legacy of my father to live on forever, while helping thousands of patients and families in the process. Keeping Dad’s legacy alive is part of the magic that makes this foundation not only successful, but undeniably unique. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss the hero in my life, but all I have to do is look to my left because I know that Dad is right beside me every step of the way. His will is what has given me the strength, determination and passion to keep going and continuing to impact the lives of others. Whether you are a patient, family member, friend or caregiver, remember this…WE ARE ALL SURVIVORS!

Together we have built a one-of-a-kind patient services program that educates communities about the risk factors, causes and treatments of these conditions, while providing a safe haven for patients and caregivers to seek support and comfort.  And through our persistent fundraising efforts, we have helped fund critical research that is paving the way for neurological advancements in the future.


In life there are no guarantees, but what we do have is the power to make the life we have one of significance.  I wasn’t able to do anything to save my father’s life, but I certainly can fight each and every day to help save the lives of others.  By offering everything from words or wisdom to a shoulder to cry on, I have thrown back the curve ball and am committed to changing the course of this disease.  I have chosen to take the challenges I’ve been given, turn them into something positive and allow that strength to carry me through. And that is how we all should live – forever creating a legacy we want others to remember us by.

Welcome to the JNF Family!

Natalie Niekro – Founder

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