When your child is confined to a bed when he's not in a wheelchair because of an unknown medical condition, an outpouring of community support can seem like winning the lottery.
Recently, about 300 people showed up at a fundraiser for Joe Reames at Fishbone Grille and helped raise $32,000 to help his family purchase a van equipped with a wheelchair lift. Local businesses chipped in too, with items for a raffle and silent auction.
"The fundraiser was great. I've never known what it's like to win the lottery before," Joe's mother Dorothy Reames said. "It's been amazing how much people want to reach out."
Though the fundraiser, organized by family friend and Fishbone owner Sherry Economos, raised more money than anyone expected, the Reames still have a long way to go. They plan to put the money towards a Honda Odyssey mini-van equipped with a wheelchair ramp. It will cost approximately $60,000. The family is also looking to add on to their home to provide more room for Joe and the overnight nursing care he requires.
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Fortunately, even before the fundraiser, Paul Hunter, with B & H Builders in Rock Hill, heard about the family's predicament and has offered to provide a work crew to build the addition at no cost to the Reames. Also, offers of free building materials have also come in, according to the family.
The Reames have three other sons - Ethan, 17, Ian, 15, and Eli, 10. As Joe's condition has worsened recently, his medical supplies and equipment have taken over the family home. Something is stuffed into every closet in the house, Dorothy Reames said. Joe has spent his life in a converted den, and Reames said they want to build him a room that will give him more privacy and hold most, if not all, of his medical gear.
No one has ever been able to tell the family exactly what is wrong with Joe. The most frustrating thing, Reames said, is that she has no one to turn to to tell her what to do.
"They haven't diagnosed Joe, and if you don't know what it is, you can't get help," she said. "I feel like I left my life 11 years ago ... I've been trying to make sense of something you can't make sense of. We didn't realize everything was going to be weird for so long."
Economos attributes the success of the fundraising effort to local cooperation and a media blitz prior to the event. The UPS Store on Hwy. 160 West donated 5,000 flyers about the fundraiser to Economos, and Fort Mill School District Superintendent Keith Callicutt allowed her to send one home with every elementary school student before school let out. Local print and broadcast media buzzed with stories about Little Joe. It even got national play with Charlotte-based radio duo John Boy and Billy talking about it on their syndicated morning show for two weeks leading into the fundraiser, held in May.
"We're getting checks from Florida, Tennessee, all around," Economos said. "We're just hoping we can raise more because those vans are expensive."
At least two more fundraisers are planned for the family this fall. A local group of Harley Davidson riders is planning a poker ride on Saturday, Sept. 13, that will end at Fishbone Grille, where the riders will present Little Joe with the money raised. Additionally, Hunter, with B & H Builders, is planning a golf tournament for sometime in September.
In the meantime, the Reames will go on with their lives, taking Joe, who will start the sixth grade at Gold Hill Middle School in August, to speech therapy in Charlotte and try to get him computer assisted technology to help him in school. They have to carefully load him in and out of the van they have now, which is not equipped with a wheelchair lift.
"He's gotten to the point where he doesn't trust me to put him in the van anymore," Reames said.
At just a shade over five feel tall and weighing 83 pounds, Joe has gotten too big for his mom to lift alone and sometimes while Reames and a nurse try to move him, Joe's breathing tube is dislodged. Without a new van, Joe may end up permanently homebound, Reames said, because the nurses are wary of the breathing tube popping out.
Send donations to: Little Joe Fund PO Box 3156 Fort Mill, SC 29708. Makes checks payable to "Little Joe Fund."