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Social media help sought after medical emergencies

Friday, February 7, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

JOPLIN — When Bobbie Pottorff's stepson Joshua was diagnosed with lymphoma last month, shock soon gave way to a question: Now what?

"We have a 23-year-old son who has cancer, and he's never been sick a day in his life," she said.

Joshua is unable to work while undergoing chemotherapy, and medical and other expenses are piling up, The Joplin Globe reports.

"He had just started out in an electricians union about six months ago," said Pottorff, of Joplin. "He wanted to have a career and a life and a family. Now he has a port in his chest and he lives with us."

Facing expensive tests and unsure what insurance eventually will cover after the deductible is met, Pottorff did what many other area residents have done in similar situations: crowdfunding.

Using sites  such as Facebook to get the word out about illnesses, injuries and fundraising events, and newer crowdfunding platforms on the Web such as gofundme.com, people around the country have found social media can be a critical tool, whether for battling back from cancer or a car accident.

Joshua now has a profile at youcaring.com. As of Thursday, 14 donors had given $715 toward a $5,000 goal.

"I did it at the advice of a friend whose brother recently was diagnosed with cancer," Pottorff said. "They told us there will be expenses come up you'll need that you won't realize."

She also wanted a way to share updates on Joshua's medical status and progress that didn't require individual calls to each friend and family member — something that can be tedious and draining, she said. Youcaring.com allows her to do so on his profile and share them via Facebook and Twitter.

"It's easier when you have a network of people," she said. "Rather than make a phone call or texting every single person you know, it's easier to reach out and make one update for everyone."

Likewise, friends and family members turned to both the sharing power of Facebook and the online fundraising site gofundme.com to assist Garrett Buzzard, a 2009 graduate of Carthage High School in Carthage, about 17 miles northeast of Joplin, who suffered a broken neck in a motorcycle accident on Jan. 11.

Buzzard received medical treatment in the intensive care unit at Freeman Hospital West, and he was transferred to the Craig Hospital rehab center in Colorado — a trip with a price tag of about $10,000 that was not covered by insurance.

"I would like to encourage everyone to donate anything they can," wrote Klista Lambeth Bacon when she set up his profile on the gofundme.com project site Jan. 22. "If all my friends on Facebook alone donated just $5, it would raise more than $3,000. Please share this on your Facebook page. Any and all donations are greatly appreciated."

People may share via social media directly from the gofundme.com profile. By Friday, Bacon's request had generated 1,000 Facebook shares and had raised $8,280 toward the $50,000 goal by Thursday.

A Garrett Buzzard Benefit page on Facebook has more than 400 followers who can see immediate updates on his progress.

Buzzard's friends also turned to Facebook to promote a chili fundraiser held at a Carthage church. By using the "create event" function, they were able to share details with hundreds of friends and family members, who in turn could issue digital invitations to hundreds of other friends and family members.

Friends and family members of Jonathan Russell, a seriously ill 34-year-old Neosho man who has been receiving treatment in St. Louis, also turned to an online fundraiser and social media site, and they say they have found great success.

"Using an online donation service has taken out the legwork of a fundraiser," said Amber Hall, who has been managing a profile at youcaring.com to raise money for Russell's medical expenses.

Russell was diagnosed with the H1N1 strain of flu and was admitted in early December to a local hospital, where he was quickly transferred to the intensive care unit. He also developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, a potentially life-threatening illness that can show up in the lungs of individuals who are already battling a major disease.

Now in a St. Louis hospital, Russell remains at risk of infection, so his team of doctors, nurses and other health professionals is continually monitoring his progress and condition.

Setting up an online fundraiser meant getting him immediate financial help, Hall said. By Thursday, 104 supporters had contributed $10,923 toward a $20,000 goal.

A relative of a man who was found nearly frozen outside a rural Pittsburg, Kan., home on Jan. 6 in subzero temperatures said social media and online fundraising helped not just financially, but connected friends and family members who are at a distance.

"There is no doubt that social media has played a huge role from keeping friends and family updated to receiving prayers and support from everywhere," said Shaun Hampton, of Webb City.

Hampton's brother-in-law, Colter Steffens, 27, of Mulberry, Kan., was flown to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., where he spent several days in the Intensive Care Unit recovering from hypothermia, and then began physical rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Friend Jill Brinkmeyer used Facebook to issue invitations to a pancake feed at Applebee's that raised $1,800, and she created a page to plan a band benefit and auction on March 2 at Mooreman's Southside in Pittsburg.

Steffens' aunt, Kala Hillery, established a fundraising page on gofundme.com for Steffens, with the goal of raising $1,000. With 875 shares through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the page raised about $2,000 given by 42 people in 17 days.

Hillery also used the site to give friends and family members an update about Steffens' progress posted on Jan. 27.

"Facebook's 'share' feature has made it possible to see people from California to Pennsylvania to other countries around the world posting prayers and kind words," Hampton said. "I can't even put a number on the number of people praying for him.

"We were able to post an update and tag family members. Then their friends could share with their friends, family and network of people, and one update could end up being read by hundreds of people."


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