MARS HILL, Maine — The sounds of Thanksgiving — the whir of the electric knife to cut the turkey, the crack of the wishbone being separated, and the snap of fresh green beans for the casserole — are just as plentiful as the sights and smells. And for the first time in her life, Bobbi Guerrette is hearing those sounds.
Her family is giving thanks this holiday season for the end of a journey that began when 5-year-old 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 didn’t function.
But thanks to the generosity of anonymous donors, Bobbi now has two functioning ears.
“She is currently hearing with both ears and is really surprised when she hears new sounds,” her mother, Jamie Guerrette, said on Wednesday. “Before the surgeries, she didn’t wear her hearing aid at night, so she hears sounds during the night now that she hasn’t heard before. She just told me that hearing Christmas bells is so pretty. It is interesting to her and to us as we watch her learn how her ears work.”
Back in 2009, Ryan and Jamie Guerrette and family supporters were holding fundraisers to help come up with the nearly $100,000 needed for two surgeries to create working ears for Bobbi.
The Guerrettes’ health insurance would not cover the full cost of the 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 published a story in December 2009 about the fundraising campaign, anonymous donors stepped forward through their accountant to offer to pay the entire cost of the surgeries. The family got the news a few days before Christmas.
The donors stipulated two conditions for their contributions. The first was that when the Guerettes received any insurance reimbursement for the surgeries, 50 percent of that money would be used to create college accounts for their two children — 25 percent for Bobbi and 25 percent for her older sister Carly.
The second condition was that the remaining insurance money go toward helping other Maine children who need medical assistance.
Since the agreement was reached, Bobbi has had two ears created by doctors at the California Ear Institute in Palo Alto, California. She no longer wears the bone-anchored hearing aid surgically implanted when she was 3 months old and can do everything a normal little girl can do without fear that it will damage the hearing aid.
Shortly after the first surgery in 2010, the Guerrettes followed up on their promise and created Bobbi’s Build An Ear, a foundation that provides financial support to Maine children who need funds for medical expenses.
The foundation already has assisted close to 50 families by providing funds for medical care, expenses related to travel for care and equipment, according to Guerrette.
The Guerrettes and their supporters also have collected more money for the foundation through various fundraisers. The foundation, for instance, will be hosting its third annual Family Fun Holiday Photos Day on Dec. 4 at Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill. Four professional photographers from the area have donated their services so that families can take part in 15-minute photo sessions for $25. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with all proceeds benefiting the foundation.
Guerrette said that 40 of the 70 slots have already been taken, so individuals are encouraged to schedule an appointment quickly.
As Guerrette watches her daughter take part in gymnastics and ballet, and sees Bobbi be able to swim for the first time without fear of ruining her hearing aid, she said that her family is thankful for the donors who made the surgeries possible, for all the people who have supported the foundation, for the photographers who have volunteered year after year for the photography fundraiser, and for all those who have followed the family along their journey.
“Without the donors, none of this would have happened,” Guerrette said on Wednesday. “They will never understand how they have truly changed her life. We are so grateful. All of our lives have changed, and we now focus on the ability to pay it forward and help others.”
To reserve a slot for the Dec. 4 photo event, call Guerrette at 227-7194. To donate to Bobbi’s Build An Ear, make checks payable to the foundation and mail them to 77 Tompkins Road, Presque Isle, ME 04769, c/o Robert Jackson.