When Paul Marinello saw an ambulance outside the Smiths’ house on April 18, he assumed the ambulance had come for 2-year-old Austin. Austin had been born with an interstitial lung disease, the …
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To donate to the GoFundMe campaign in support of the Smiths or read more of the family’s story, visit gofundme.com/sean-smith-and-family.
When Paul Marinello saw an ambulance outside the Smiths’ house on April 18, he assumed the ambulance had come for 2-year-old Austin. Austin had been born with an interstitial lung disease, the diagnosis occurring just years after his mother, former Alameda International High School teacher Crystal Smith, was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease.
“I thought, `It’s got to be their son,’ ” Marinello said. “But then I saw the full-size gurney.”
Marinello would soon learn the ambulance had been called for Crystal’s husband, Sean, after he suffered a brain aneurysm. Sean had a seizure while getting ready for work that morning; a second seizure left him unresponsive shortly after Crystal called paramedics.
The 38-year-old was admitted to Swedish Medical Center’s neurological intensive care unit and has since been transferred to a number of hospitals and undergone 14 surgeries.
“They told me he had about a 5% chance of living,” Crystal said, “and I put my faith in God. I knew that Sean would fight to come back to his family.”
Healing through `the strength of others’
The day after Sean’s hospitalization, neighbor Julie Porter was standing on her back patio with her husband, Matt, talking on the phone with Marinello’s wife, Nina.
“At the same time, Nina and Matt said, `What if we start a GoFundMe page?’ ” Julie said. “So we went over and put it together that night.”
The campaign started by the two couples has since spread to hundreds within the community, receiving 516 Facebook shares and raising $23,635 to date.
“There have been people donating $500 or $1,000,” Nina said. “This support can help Crystal focus more on Sean’s care and on the family.”
The four set the fundraiser’s goal at $250,000 to help the Smiths cover Sean’s medical bills and pay for a home. The family had been preparing to move to a new house when Sean was first hospitalized and will now move in with family members for financial reasons.
“We just wanted to help them get through this huge bump and execute the plan they’d had in place,” Paul said.
Just after the campaign was posted, neighbors also raised more than $2,000 for the Smiths through the family’s garage sale. Friends and family members finished the packing job the Smiths hadn’t yet completed and held the sale, with many selling their own belongings and donating the proceeds to the Smiths.
“I feel like there’s something unique about this neighborhood,” Julie said. “There’s such a sense of bond and community with helping one another.”
While neighbors led the charge, word of the fundraising efforts also spread outside of the neighborhood. Many of those close to Sean, a system administrator at blood and cellular tech company Terumo BCT, spread the word to their workplaces and shared the GoFundMe page on social networking sites.
Individuals have donated an average of $114 per person to the campaign, with 207 donating so far.
“That’s a lot of people who said, `I want to try to make a difference,’ ” Paul said.
A ‘humbling’ feeling
Sean is now recovering in the hospital and participating in a rehabilitation program. The family hopes he will return home in early July, Crystal said, after which he will begin an outpatient rehab program.
For Sean — who underwent his most recent brain surgery on June 3 — the efforts of friends, family and strangers have “been very humbling.”
“I was actually quite surprised that this was happening,” he said from his hospital room. “It’s awesome to have the positivity come through and see people coming together to help others.”
The support, Crystal said, has provided far more than money.
“What helped get us through was the kindness from others,” she said. “We’ve been opening up to the strength of others who reached out to help us.”
That strength made a list that Crystal recited every day as, each time she drove home from the hospital, she named everything and everyone she was grateful for.
“There’re so many names on the GoFundMe of people I don’t even know. I don’t even know how to reach out to them or tell them thank you,” she said. “They’re showing that there’s so much good in the world.”
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