From prayers answered, to dreaded bills

Benefits become common way for 'village' to help

VIRGINIA BLACK
South Bend Tribune

Shaun Tevault stood at his infant son's bedside, watching the tiny, inert figure covered in tubes, praying and trying to hold back tears.

The Mish-awaka man's son, Christopher James Tevault, had been born prematurely after Shaun's fiancee, Bobbi Davis, was whisked by helicopter to Indianapolis because the baby's heartbeat was too fast.

The boy was delivered by C-section on Oct. 13, and he had endured several surgeries already, to correct two small holes in his heart and a narrowing of his aortic arch, among other things, Shaun recalls. Then doctors noted blood on his brain and issues with his kidneys and liver.

But now, on Oct. 31, in Peyton Manning Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, the weeks-old baby was swollen from his organs shutting down and not expelling fluid and waste.

"We don't think he's going to make it through the night," Shaun recalls the doctors telling them. " 'We're keeping him comfortable right now.' It was bad."

The doctors unhooked some of the tubes to which little Christopher had been tethered, and his parents each held their son for the only the second time since he was born.

Then they were asked, "Would you like to have him baptized tonight?"

About 10 p.m., a female chaplain arrived, read a long prayer, sprinkled some water on the baby's head and baptized him. Shaun found himself a couple of hours later praying on his own at the baby's bedside.

"I said, 'I understand if you have to take him,' " he says, pausing at this point in the story, and sighing. "It was just really hard."

But then, he happened to look down at his son's catheter.

"There was about 2 feet of urine! I screamed, and the doctor ran in and saw it and then ran out into the hallway and yelled, 'He's peeing! He's peeing!' " Shaun says. "I knew God was in the room. ... (The doctors and nurses) knew how hard he (Christopher) had fought. ... It was just amazing for everybody at that point."

After that, the baby just continued to improve. His swelling went down. After two or three days, he opened his eyes. His organs started to work again. The bleeds in his brain have stabilized, Shaun says, and one has since reabsorbed.

"Even to the doctors, they were like, 'He is a miracle,' " Shaun says. "There were angels in the room, there's no doubt."

The doctors pulled out all the stops, Shaun says, and the family is grateful for their perseverance.

He and Bobbi decided early on to do anything they could to fight for their son. "The doctors even told us there are some parents who wouldn't have gone as far as we have gone," Shaun says.

Baby Christopher is home now. His prognosis is good, although he will still need regular checkups in Indianapolis and by doctors here. Only time will tell whether any lasting learning disabilities exist.

Bobbi quit her job to stay home, and the couple rarely take him out, to keep him healthy.

But what their battle will cost them financially didn't occur to them until, once it appeared Christopher was out of the woods, a nurse offhandedly said to Bobbi, "You're well over a million dollars now."

The bills are just now, she says, starting to come in.

Helping each other

It's likely most of us know someone who has struggled to pay medical bills, or to cope with time off work or compensate for travel to out-of-state hospitals. Fundraisers or benefits are becoming more commonplace even for those who have medical insurance.

The Amish, who do not carry personal health insurance, have long relied on their neighbors for help when bills become too high and often hold benefits to help meet costs.

Dan Byler, who publishes The People's Exchange in nearby Amish communities in Indiana and Michigan, includes a benefits section and offers small benefits ads for free, as their way of helping out the community.

Spring and fall are the busiest times for benefits, he says, based on how many of those ads his free publication sees.

Byler, whose parents grew up Amish, notes that Amish church districts are self-insured but that some high health costs can be overwhelming to those plans, too.

A recent full-page ad in the Exchange featured a March ice-fishing competition in Shipshewana for a man's hospital bills.

"They help each other out," Byler says.

Amish auctions, dinners and sports competitions raise money for other worthy causes, too, such as schools and nonprofit groups.

Hitting people up for money too often might be a concern, he says, but such events can also be social outlets.

Meanwhile, back in the wired world, family and friends are increasingly turning to online fundraising sites to rally donations toward medical costs.

Shannon Shensky, communications manager for HelpHopeLive, says the federally tax-exempt nonprofit began by helping transplant patients but has gradually expanded to aid others with catastrophic illnesses.

The organization assigns a case manager to a family member or friend to help design fundraising strategies, she says, and will manage the money raised. A coordinator helps design a site and helps with ideas that would work in their community. Like other sites, it takes an administrative fee of 4 percent, which Shensky says is lower than similar sites.

Unlike many such sites, she says, HelpHopeLive assures donors their money will go toward paying bills -- they pay bills directly -- and donations can be deducted from a giver's taxes because the organization is tax-exempt.

HelpHopeLive began more than 30 years ago but is expanding to meet the growing needs of not only medical costs but also such things as rehab, home modifications, travel and mortgage payments.

"The type of person we're helping is changing," Shensky says. "Even the middle-class person is coming to us for help."

A village

Stephanie Fagan is a good friend of Shaun Tevault's. She watched as he took time off from his job as a material handler and mold setter at Genesis Molding and Mishawaka at the end of last year to be with Bobbi and their new baby, and as he drove back and forth as he went back to work and to see them on weekends over the holidays.

He says he can't afford health insurance for his little family through his employer -- it would be more than $200 a week, and he earns $9.25 an hour -- and he worries about what to do when the bills come in, even though Bobbi and Christopher are on Medicaid.

Stephanie decided to learn how to throw a benefit for her friends.

"I didn't know what to do, but I knew I wanted to help," she says. "I just really, really felt it was my job to help them as much as I could."

The result is a benefit Saturday night featuring three bands and a lot of nice silent auction items, she says.

She has shed "a lot of tears" while learning how to organize such an event, Stephanie says, but it's worth it. Many people have stepped forward to donate their time to help.

"It really does take a village," she says. "I think that is the most important thing: Everyone coming together to help those who need it. Hopefully, we can help."

Feedback from last week

A few Facebook comments about last week's column on puppy mill dogs:

Sandra Harbison: I rescued a precious Shih a Tzu puppy from a puppy mill and she is the most loving and precious dog you could ever want. I used to only buy from reputable breeders and saw the parents and where they lived until this time. So glad I got over having this requirement. I would have missed a real blessing.

Tracy Finn Hayes: Just purchased a westie 3 weeks ago. When I left the Amish guy's house, I had a really bad feeling he was running a mill. Did some more internet research & checked with some other contacts only to find out he is running a huge puppy mill! Glad I was able to rescue my baby girl as she was probably going to be used as a breeder.

Cheryl Schlink: Years back I bought a dog from the mall. I researched the owners from the paperwork provided with the sale and it was a puppy mill. Since then have either purchased from a breeder or the humane society.

Cynthia Slade: Only bought one dog in my life, from a cousin. Both his sire and dam were privately owned. Never ever would I buy from a shop or mill.

Now about 4 months old, baby Christopher Tevault is beginning to catch up from being born about five weeks premature, smiling and beginning to laugh, says mom Bobbi Davis. "It's pretty cute."(SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)

What: The benefit for Christopher James Tevault's medical expenses

When: Beginning at noon Saturday into the night

Where: Clay Democratic Club, 109 E. Pendle St., South Bend (corner of Indiana 933)

More to know: $5 donation at the door enters your name in a drawing and gives you three raffle tickets. Lunch and dinner will be for sale. Bands playing beginning at 4 p.m. will be Dark Trilogy, the Joe Feingold Project and House Arrest. Silent auction items include signed Notre Dame memorabilia.