Miracle on Mars Hill: Donors help build girl’s ears

Posted Dec. 18, 2009, at 7:05 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:38 a.m.

MARS HILL, Maine — Next Christmas, Bobbi Guerrette will be able to hear — with brand-new ears of her own — the crinkle of wrapping paper as she opens her toys.

It’s something she can’t do this year because she was born without ears. But thanks to what her family is calling “a Christmas miracle,” the 3-year-old has the sounds of carols and bells in her future.

An anonymous donor has offered to pay the entire cost of surgery to create new ears for the little girl.

The daughter of Ryan and Jamie Guerrette, Bobbi was born with bilateral microtia with atresia. The condition is evident at birth and essentially means she was born without ears. In Bobbi’s case, one of her ears isn’t open and the other is a skin tag that doesn’t function.

At this point, she can hear as long as she is wearing her bone-anchored hearing aid, worn on a band strapped around her head.

But without ears, Bobbi can’t wear glasses, swim, stand on her head or tumble without damaging the hearing aid. And she can’t accomplish her goal of having her ears pierced and wearing butterfly earrings like her 5-year-old sister, Carly.

The Guerrettes discovered soon after her diagnosis that surgery to correct the difficulties is available at the California Ear Institute. During the operation, physicians create ears, ear canals and eardrums. With the surgery priced at $45,000 for each ear, plus travel and aftercare expenses, the Guerrettes are facing a cost of close to $100,000 for the whole project.

Jamie Guerrette estimated that health insurance the family carries would pay for up to 70 percent of the cost, but the California Ear Institute does not bill insurance, and the family must pay for the procedures upfront and be reimbursed by insurance later. The Guerrettes still must cover about 30 percent of the cost of the surgeries, plus travel and lodging expenses for the journey to California.

They began a fundraising campaign to acquire the needed money. Efforts by family and friends, including the sale of T-shirts, generated more than $6,000. After an article about the girl’s plight appeared in the Bangor Daily News on Dec. 9, readers began sending cards with donations, Jamie Guerrette said.

Then she got a phone call.

“It just came on Monday,” Jamie Guerrette said Friday. “We were told that these people wanted to make a substantial donation to our cause. We began working with their accountant, and it took a few days to get everything straightened out. We then learned that they wanted to pay the entire cost of the surgeries. We were just completely floored.”

Guerrette said her family has “no idea” who the donors are.

“All we know is that they read the article in the Bangor Daily News, and they loved the story and thought that Bobbi was cute and everything,” she said. “And they wanted to do this for her.”

The donors stipulated two conditions for contributing the money. The first was that, when the family is reimbursed by the insurance companies for the partial cost of the surgery, they use 50 percent of that money to create college accounts for their two children. Twenty-five percent of it will create a college fund for Bobbi, and 25 percent for Carly.

The second condition was that the remaining money will go to help other Maine children who need medical assistance.

“We loved the conditions,” Jamie Guerrette said. “It is like paying it forward and forward and forward.”

The Guerrettes already have scheduled the appointments to have Bobbi’s ears built. The first surgery will take place April 26. The final surgery will take place on Sept. 13.

The family will use the more than $6,000 raised in previous fundraisers to pay for travel expenses and aftercare.

Guerrette admitted that the whole thing has been “like a dream.”

“My husband and I have been laughing, crying, and just not believing it,” she said. “We just never expected this. We’ve told Bobbi that she is going to California, and she is all excited.

“We have no details about who is doing this for us,” she continued. “We have done everything through their accountant. We can’t thank them enough. They told us that just seeing an article in the Bangor Daily News telling others about our miracle would be thanks enough.”

That doesn’t mean the Guerrettes aren’t trying to guess who the donors might be.

“I am doing better than my husband,” Jamie Guerrette admitted. “He is just trying to guess who it might be. I am just so happy this is happening, I can’t even believe it.”

Jamie Guerrette pointed out that by next Christmas, her daughter will have her ears — and the butterfly earrings to put in them.

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