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Guardsman wins car, donates it to fellow soldier with leukemia

May. 12, 2014 - 06:32PM   |  
Jacob Thomas donated the brand new Kia he won in a drawing to his friend, Florida Army National Guardsman, Staff Sgt. Eddie McNeil, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia for the second time.
Jacob Thomas donated the brand new Kia he won in a drawing to his friend, Florida Army National Guardsman, Staff Sgt. Eddie McNeil, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia for the second time. (Special to the News Journal)
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Florida Army National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Eddie McNeil, who was diagnosed with leukemia, plays with his son. (Special to the News Journal)

When Jacob Thomas arrived at Kia Autosport of Pensacola on Tuesday to pick up the car he won as part of the Kia Drive for Life promotion, everybody got excited.

Betty Roberts, a spokeswoman for OneBlood, which partnered with the dealership to give away the car to boost blood donations, greeted Thomas and asked him what he thought of the spanking new wheels.

“I am not going to keep it,” he said.

That shocked Roberts, but what happened next really blew everybody’s mind.

Thomas announced that he was giving the car to his fellow Florida Army National Guardsman, Staff Sgt. Eddie McNeil, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia for the second time.

“I am still getting chills from it,” said Jessica Lee, general manager and vice president of Kia Autosport of Pensacola. “Jacob is truly amazing. This man gave back in so many ways. He gave blood at the blood drives and then he gave the car to someone else in need,” Lee said. “This is exactly what this promotion is all about.”

KIA Autosport of Pensacola donated the car for the promotion. Lee thanked Jacob and all blood donors for their blood donations during the promotion.

“It’s not about the car but raising awareness to the increased need for blood in our community,” she said

Thomas, who is a sergeant, said once the initial shock he had won a car wore off, he knew he didn’t need the car and couldn’t think of anyone more deserving than McNeil.

“We moved up through the ranks together, and he has always taken care of his soldiers. I had the opportunity to help him out with something he really needs, and I just followed his example,” said Thomas, who lives in Santa Rosa Beach.

McNeil was struggling to make it to his appointments at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville because his truck wasn’t up for the drive from their hometown of Bonifay.

Just days after receiving the new car, the family of four loaded up for another trip to Shands Hospital for another round of chemo.

The drive was much less stressful for the family, McNeil said.

“We love everything about that car. It’s just awesome. It’s basically exactly what we needed,” McNeil said.

He added it was a relief not worrying about breaking down on the trip and said the gas mileage compared to his truck was an added blessing.

McNeil and his family will be staying in Gainesville for the next few months as he undergoes a bone marrow transplant and continues to battle leukemia.

Thomas said McNeil insisted on paying him back for the tax and title fees, but Thomas said he hopes a GoFundMe page, started by his sister, Brandy Thomas Lewis, will help take that burden off McNeil and his family.

The car giveaway is in its eighth year, and this is the first time a winner has given the car away.

Each year, OneBlood and Kia Autosport of Pensacola join together to sponsor a random drawing. Anyone who gives blood twice within the five-month period is entered to win.

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