North Raleigh residents Brian and Vicki Allison look for one special person or family to help every year. This year, they couldn’t find one. Then Vicki walked into Papertown on Spring Forest Road and learned about a Spring Hope family and their baby, Michael.
His full name is Michael Ronnie Anselmo. He was born Aug. 30 and is named for his father. What would ordinarily be a joyous occasion was marred for Anselmo and his wife, Bri Gunn. Baby Michael was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, or HLHS for short.
The left side of Michael’s heart isn’t working, and he has had two operations already to make sure that the right side can handle the workload for the whole heart.
Baby Michael Anselmo was born with only one side of his heart working and has needed multiple surgeries.
He’ll be going home Monday with a feeding tube. Then the week before Christmas, Anselmo and Gunn will bring him back for a surgery to install a bigger stent.
After that, if everything goes OK, Michael will come back when he is 2 to have one more stent put in. By then, Anselmo says, he hopes they can get Michael a heart transplant. But doctors won’t put Michael on a transplant list until after his Christmas surgery, and then Anselmo doesn’t have any idea how long it will be before his baby receives a new heart.
“The situation this baby’s in, a miracle may happen, and you pray for it, but you automatically know what kind of stress that family’s under and how the medical bills must be mounting up,” Vicki said.
To make matters worse, Gunn is suffering from post-partum depression and is unable to care for the baby or herself. Her husband is shouldering the responsibility for the whole family, which means he had to leave behind his construction business and the income it provided.
“It’s hard, but like I told the doctors here, I don’t really have time to process it,” Anselmo said. “I have to be here to make sure he’s taken care of, and the wife is taken care of.”
Vicki and Brian will hold a fundraiser for the family Nov. 3. The Allisons have invited neighbors, friends and customers from Brian’s tree business, and they will all gather, eat hamburgers and hot dogs, listen to music, watch a magic show, hold a raffle and take donations. It’s part of a yearly ritual that grew out of odd beginnings.
“Originally it was because I was married to somebody else and the marriage was not very good,” Brian Allison said.
It took three years to get his divorce finalized, and when the paperwork finally went through, Allison decided to have a party. That party was so fun that he repeated it year after year. Eventually, he decided the party should be used to give back.
They help someone different each year. Once it was a young girl with cystic fibrosis. Another year, someone dying of brain cancer.
Allison said he was inspired by an incident in his childhood. He grew up poor, and he can remember his family’s car breaking down. His mom made it to the mechanic’s, but they didn’t have any money for repairs or a place to stay for the night. They were planning to sleep in the car. Then an employee at the shop stepped in, gave them money for food, rented them a hotel room and took care of their car.
“It’s a good feeling for me, and a lot of times I reflect back to that guy who helped us who didn’t know us from anything,” Allison said.
So, every year Allison looks for a stranger and lends a helping hand.
Anselmo and his family certainly fit that bill. Until Medicaid kicked in a couple of weeks ago, they had no insurance for baby Michael’s bills. Even with Medicaid, they will be saddled with a $28,000 bill. Anselmo said that if it weren’t for Medicaid, after the next surgery, they would owe considerably more. He quoted me a cost in the low millions.
“I would be in financial devastation until the day I die,” he said.
It’s hard, Anselmo said. With the exception of good Samaritans like the Allisons, not many people are willing to cut you a break.
“Unfortunately, they don’t care whether your son is fighting for his life or not,” Anselmo said. “Mortgage still wants their mortgage payment, and the car people still want their car payment.”