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Strangers pay medical bills

Ozarks couple shares 'crowdfunding' story

Friends and family have turned to social media to help Drew Lewis and Amy Blansit pay for thousands of dollars in medical bills while he fights stage 4 colon cancer.

November 27, 2012|by Joanna Small, KSPR News | Reporter and Photographer

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Other people -- in many cases, total strangers -- are covering hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses; it's happening more often.  It's called "crowdfunding."

Crowdfunding is when you solicit donations for small amounts of money for projects via the internet.  It's not new, but crowdfunding to pay for hospital bills is.
  
With health care costs averaging $8,000 per person per year, paying for the unexpected is becoming increasingly difficult, especially when the unexpected is $400,000 for a Springfield couple.
 
From a hospital room inside the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, nearly 800 miles from home, Amy Blansit can't help but laugh.

"There were times we would put on a woman's wig; we tried on wigs to lighten the mood."

She says she's got to laugh -- if she doesn't, she won't stop crying.  Her husband Drew Lewis' battle with stage 4 colon cancer is culminating with a second surgery Friday to remove the last tumors in his liver.

"I want to have a big sign for him to see when he wakes up to remind him it's been ten months and a long battle but it's all been worth it," she said by Skype from Cleveland.

A lot of people, 1,237 and climbing, will be anxiously awaiting a picture of that sign and an update.  Amy and Drew started a Facebook page to keep people informed about Drew after his diagnosis last January.

"Our friends and family joined on and there were maybe 20 people, then it went to 30 people, then 300 people, and there are people in Germany that were friends of friends," Amy said of the page.  It wasn't meant to solicit donations, but suddenly the couple needs them.

"At 6 p.m. the night before his surgery, we were called by his insurance to let us know they had denied the surgery" -- a $400,000 bill, denied.

"This is new for me, it's all new," but so natural for Vanessa Howe, a longtime close friend and colleague of Drew's at Murney Associates.  With help, she started using Drew's page and hers to encourage people to donate to an account at Empire Bank.

"Within the first day, we probably had 15 people say they went and did," said Howe of contributions to the account.

Howe didn't know it but she's crowdfunding.  And so is Amy's sister.  She set up an account at giveforward.com which has raised nearly $27 million for mostly medical causes.

Part of the appeal is it's so easy.  First, you set up a page, then set a fundraising goal and a fundraising end date.  Lastly and most importantly, you share your cause and others will too.

"It's that type of selflessness, it's overwhelming, it really is.  You can't write enough thank you notes," Amy said between tears, especially because some people contributing have never met Amy or Drew.

"It's a blessing, it really is," but not the biggest blessing of all.  Amy says that's Drew.

"He's changed my life, and I'm very proud to be his wife."

Drew's surgery is Friday and Amy hopes, after about two more weeks of recovering in Cleveland, they'll be able to come home to Springfield, just in time for Christmas.

Sites like giveforward.com and another popular one, gofundme.com, which has raised more than $6 million for medical causes just this year, take a percentage of donations, between 5 and 7 percent.
 
To visit Drew's Facebook page, click here.

To visit his giveforward.com page, click here.

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