MARS HILL, Maine — Bobbi Guerrette knows that next week she is getting on a plane to fly to the warm, sunny state of California, where she is looking forward to spending time on the beach and possibly meeting some Disney characters.
But the 3-year-old also knows California is the place where she is going to receive something that she wants even more than sand castles and seashells — her ears.
On April 26, the Mars Hill girl will go through a 10-hour surgery to correct a condition she was born with.
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.
Right now, Bobbi can hear as long as she is wearing her bone-anchored hearing aid, worn on a band strapped around her head. She has worn it since she was 3 months old.
But without ears, Bobbi can’t wear glasses, swim, stand on her head or tumble without damaging the hearing aid. She also can’t do what she most wants: have her ears pierced so she can wear butterfly earrings like her 5-year-old sister, Carly.
Bangor Daily News readers were introduced to Bobbi when her story was told in December.
At the time, the Guerrette family and their supporters were hosting fundraisers to garner the nearly $100,000 they needed to pay for surgery to create both ears for Bobbi.
The Guerrettes have health insurance that will pay for an estimated 70 percent of the medical costs, but insurance will not pay for the full cost of both surgeries or help the family with the expense of traveling to and from California and staying there while Bobbi undergoes treatment.
The California Ear Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., where Bobbi is having her surgery, also does not bill insurance, so the family has to pay for the procedures upfront.
A little more than a week after the BDN story appeared, anonymous donors came forward to help the family, indicating through their accountant that they wanted to pay the entire cost of the surgeries.
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 — 25 percent for Bobbi and 25 percent for Carly.
The second condition was that the remaining money go to help other Maine children who need medical assistance.
The family got the news just a few days before Christmas. Jamie Guerrette quickly got on the phone to schedule the two surgeries, where surgeons will create ears, ear canals and eardrums, one ear at a time. The first is on April 26, and the final procedure is on Sept. 13.
The family has spent the past few months preparing Bobbi and themselves for the first surgery.
“Bobbi is so excited,” Jamie Guerrette said Wednesday. “We are flying out of Presque Isle on April 21. Bobbi talks about her surgery all the time, telling people that she is going to California to get her ears fixed. She also has her bathing suits and beach towels ready.”
Guerrette said the family will spend the days before the surgery meeting with doctors, going to the beach and seeing some of the sights in California. While the first surgery will be a 10-hour procedure, Bobbi will not have to spend the night in the hospital, according to Guerrette.
“It is a day surgery,” she said Wednesday. “We will have to stay in California for more than three weeks after the surgery until she is cleared medically to fly home. Once we get home, she will still have to wear her bone-anchored hearing aid, but everything will change after the second surgery.”
Guerrette said Bobbi does not appear to be frightened by the prospect of surgery.
“She hasn’t expressed any fear at all,” she said. “She just talks about going to California a lot, and she is still talking about getting her ears pierced as soon as she can.”
Guerrette said she and husband Ryan “have a sense of peace” about the procedure.
“We have talked to other parents whose children have had this procedure,” she said. “We know what to expect. We are just so happy this is going to happen and so grateful to the anonymous donors.”
The family and their supporters are still hosting fundraisers to help them cover the cost of their expenses while in California.
“We still have to stay out there for three weeks and pay for follow-up care,” she noted. “And then we have to go out again for the second surgery. The community and people who don’t even know us have been so supportive. We are still getting cards from people who heard our story, and our fundraisers have been well-attended.”
Guerrette said the family also has had a number of requests from people who want to track Bobbi’s progress. That prompted the family to set up a Web site for just that purpose.
The family turned to CaringBridge.org, a nonprofit organization that provides free Web sites that connect family and friends during a serious health event. Visitors to the site will be able to track Bobbi through her surgeries and the recovery process, as Guerrette will keep it updated.
To read Bobbi’s story and keep track of her progress, go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/bobbijoguerrette.