MARS HILL, Maine — It was more than a year ago that Ryan and Jamie Guerrette set out to find a way to get their young daughter the surgeries she needed to give her a more normal life. Now that the mission has been accomplished, it would be easy for the Mars Hill family to sit back and go on with their daily lives.
But that wouldn’t gel with the family’s philosophy of paying forward all of the blessings they have received, which is why they were spending their Sunday holding a fundraiser to do just that.
The fundraiser, the second annual Family Fun Holiday Photos Day, benefited Bobbi’s Build An Ear, the foundation established in honor of the Guerrettes’ 4-year-old daughter, Bobbi. Bobbi was born with bilateral microtia with atresia, a condition that essentially means she was born without ears. In Bobbi’s case, one of her ears was not open and the other was nonfunctioning.
Readers of the Bangor Daily News have followed Bobbi’s story since last December, when the Guerrette family and their supporters held fundraisers to help with the nearly $100,000 needed to pay for surgeries to create both ears for Bobbi.
The Guerrettes’ health insurance would not cover the full cost of both surgeries. The family also needed help to pay for travel to and from California and for living expenses while on the West Coast. The hospital that was to conduct the surgeries does not bill insurance, so the family had to raise the money for the procedures up-front.
A little more than a week after the BDN story about the fundraising campaign was published, anonymous donors came forward to help the family, indicating through their accountant that they wanted to pay the entire cost of the surgeries. The family got the news a few days before Christmas.
The donors who funded the surgeries stipulated two conditions for their contributions. 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 6-year-old Carly.
The second condition was that the remaining money go to help other Maine children who need medical assistance.
The first successful surgery took place April 26 at the California Ear Institute in Palo Alto, Calif. Surgeons created an ear, ear canal and eardrum. The family stayed on the West Coast for about a month before returning home. The second surgery took place at the same hospital on Sept. 13.
Bobbi now has two functioning ears. She has been able to hear with the help of a bone-anchored hearing aid surgically implanted when she was 3 months old. A brightly colored band around her head helps to keep it in place. She still wears it while her second ear heals, but Jamie Guerrette said Sunday that she would be able to discard it for good in a few months.
As part of Sunday’s fundraiser, a handful of photographers donated their time to snap portraits of families. For $25, approximately 100 people received a 15-minute session with a photographer and left with a CD with their photos on it. Jamie Guerrette, who was busily managing the fundraiser along with volunteer friends and co-workers, said this year’s event attracted the same number of people as last year.
The family’s establishment of Bobbi’s Build An Ear meets the second stipulation made by the anonymous donors. The foundation provides financial support to Maine children who need funds for medical expenses and already has assisted 20 families, Jamie Guerrette said Sunday.
“This is a really good fundraiser for us, because it is something that people want to do anyway,” she said. “Everyone wants family pictures. We have had families come here that haven’t had their pictures done in years. This wouldn’t be possible without all of the support we’ve received from the photographers who donated their time and the vendors who are here offering products.”
The foundation mainly has helped families pay the travel expenses they have incurred while taking their children for treatment and appointments, according to Guerrette. Several fundraisers already have taken place this year. The family held a 75-mile benefit motorcycle ride in July, in which Bobbi rode the entire route in a side-car. In August, another fundraiser at All-Star Gymnastics in Mars Hill attracted a significant crowd.
As for Bobbi, her life is different in several ways now that she has two ears. Without ears, she was unable to wear sunglasses, swim, stand on her head or tumble without damaging the bone-anchored hearing aid. She also could not have her ears pierced as has her older sister, Carly.
Bobbi now wears sunglasses “all the time,” according to her mother, and her ears were pierced in the operating room after her second ear surgery. She now can hear out of both ears, and faces no more surgeries. She still has to go to see her doctor in Portland every Friday and will have to travel to California at least one more time.
Jamie Guerrette said the last year has been a whirlwind, but she feels constantly blessed by what has transpired.
“I would not have thought a year ago that we would be here,” she said Sunday. “It is just amazing.”
To read Bobbi’s story and keep track of her progress, go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/bobbijoguerrette.