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LAST UPDATE: Tuesday February 10, 2015 01:10PM EST
- May 23, 2005
- Vol. 63
- No. 20
Neighbors to the Rescue
When a Medical Crisis Hit, These Families Discovered a Hidden Resource—the Power of Community
When Brendan Hewes, 10, was diagnosed with the rare blood disorder aplastic anemia last June, his parents, Alicia and Dave, had cause for both hope and despair: Brendan's 6-year-old sister was a perfect match for a potentially lifesaving bone marrow transplant—but it would cost $200,000. The surgery wasn't covered by Dave's health insurance plan, and the Heweses owed $70,000 in other doctors' bills.
That's when neighbor Christina McVey swung into action. "We just couldn't sit by and do nothing," says McVey, whose daughter had been in kindergarten with Brendan. McVey rounded up 25 people to cook meals for the family while Brendan was in the hospital. A neighbor cut the family's grass weekly, and one of Dave's friends from high school, Scott Wagner, organized a silent auction at a banquet hall his family owns that netted $36,000. "If you don't reach out, then who is going to be there for you?" Wagner asks.
Brendan, known as Boomer, is still recovering from his Aug. 12 transplant, and his doctors expect him to live a normal, healthy life. Says his mom: "The bond between us and the community is something we'll have 20 years from now."
High Kicks and a Road Rally $515,000
It took creativity for Mathew Obenaus to help a little girl who needed a new pair of lungs. People in Chesapeake, Va., had organized a car wash, a concert and an ice-cream event for Emily Haley, 11. "I thought there's no reason why we couldn't do something too," says Obenaus, who owns a martial arts center. The result: a "kick-off "—where students competed to do the most kicks in 15 minutes—raising $11,000. "Emily has the desire to do the things other kids do," he says. "That's the way I presented it: 'Let's help Emily get there.' "
Never mind that Obenaus had never met her. Emily has cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease that at times forces her to fight for every breath, and her parents, Ruth and Bill Haley, both 37, were fast approaching the $1 million-per-person cap on Bill's health insurance plan. For the $500,000 needed for the transplant, the family was on their own.
Or so they thought. Neighbors joined in 65 fund-raisers, ranging from a road rally (which netted $20,133) to a tour of homes decked out for Christmas ($11,108). One girl gave her American Girl dolls. Emily Haley isn't out of the woods yet. Her surgery likely will be in 2006. But her mom knows she won't be alone: "I will be forever grateful to this town. I owe them my daughter's life."
Breaking Tradition for a Boy in Need
Looming over the desert of Shiprock, N.Mex., is a 1,700-ft. stone monolith called Tse Bitai—Navajo for "Winged Rock." David Lister knows this is a part of the country where the human soul can soar. A 17-year-old high school senior, David was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia last August. But as a full-blooded Navajo, his chances of finding a suitable match for the potentially lifesaving bone marrow transplant he needs are slim. Of the 5.3 million names in the National Marrow Donor Program registry, only 60,000 belong to Native Americans—and not one of them, it turns out, is a close enough match. To make matters worse, Navajo tradition forbids transplants.
On David's behalf, however, that centuries-old taboo is being broken. Led by Steven Tiffany, the business partner of David's father, Ernie, people of the region have rallied behind the sick boy.
At nine bone marrow drives held since April 1, about 320 people, mostly Native Americans, have lined up for blood testing. No match has been found yet, but the search goes on. "I can give a couple of drops of blood from my heart to help someone else," says Stanley King, 41, a state criminal investigator.
Help has come in other way's too. Neighbors Bob and Judith Rugo watch Ernie's jewelry shop while he and David's mother, Sandra, visit David at Phoenix Children's Hospital, 100 miles away from the family home in Prescott, Ariz. The grandmother of one of David's buddies keeps them supplied with tamales. David, left temporarily bald by chemotherapy, says the efforts on his behalf help him keep up his spirits: "I feel glad to know there are so many good people out there."
Anything to Help $189,000
Christine Barrietua has always relied on herself, earning two bachelor's degrees and raising four kids as an art teacher and single mom. But in 2002, when her baby granddaughter Annabelle Green was diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome, a life-threatening genetic disorder, she turned to the people of Boise, Idaho. "They helped save Annabelle," says Barrietua, 50.
Doctors said that without a cord blood transplant—in which Annabelle would receive donated cells from a new mother's umbilical cord—the disease would run its course, leading to mental retardation and an early death. But Medicaid deemed the surgery experimental and refused to pay the $600,000 cost.
Barrietua soon found she didn't have to face the crisis alone. A beauty parlor kicked in $1,200, and the Anniversary Inn in Boise had an Easter egg hunt. "There wasn't a question whether I would do it," says Margie Einerson Reedy, who ran some events. With free help from lawyer James DeGlee, Barrietua got Medicaid to pay some transplant costs.
Because Annabelle's parents, Jennifer Loves and Michael Green, initially opposed the risky procedure, Barrietua went to court to win legal guardianship so the surgery could go forward. Now, a year later, doctors are optimistic, and Loves says she is grateful for her mother's persistence. Green thanks the community. "They pulled together in an incredible way," he says.
By Nancy Jeffrey. Carolyn Campbell in Salt Lake City, Alexandra Rockey Fleming in Chesapeake, Melody Simmons in Linthicum, Kerri Smith in Phoenix and Shia Kapos in Chicago
- Carolyn Campbell,
- Alexandra Rockey Fleming,
- Melody Simmons,
- Kerri Smith,
- Shia Kapos.
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