LEE COUNTY, Fla. - We all know what it's like to pay a lot for health care but what if those costs meant the difference between life and death? For some people in Southwest Florida, they do. That's why they're turning to social media to get help from complete strangers.
It's a concept known as "crowdfunding." You share your cause, business or idea online, and people locally and around the world can donate. With rising health care costs the concept has taken on a whole new mission. It's saving lives.
There was a time in Marc and Michelene Lobdell's life when medical bills weren't an issue. "All of a sudden, she started having symptoms she thought would just go away," Marc Lobdell of Lehigh Acres said.
Doctors said it was Pulmonary Sarcoidosis, a disease that leads to inflammation. Problem is, Michelene's health coverage went away when her company shut down. Now, they're looking at an $86,000 bill. "Then comes the realization of oh my God, somebody's got to pay for it," Lobdell said. "I said, this is something I am going to take care of. You don't worry about it. You get healthy."
Across Lee County in North Fort Myers lives a little boy who was born with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency, sometimes called Bubble Boy Disease. "The doctors are pretty easy it's just... when I have to get IVs and stay," Zachary Smith said, talking about his appointments.
Smith has had three bone marrow transplants. Now, doctors say he needs another one. He and his mother Jennifer are preparing to travel to Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina for treatment. Doctors estimate the procedure and their stay, with could be up to a year, at $50,000. Zachary's parents are worried about how they'll pay.
"With the economy and me not working and he is in the construction industry, it's just tough and we need help this time," Jennifer Smith said.
So, the Smiths and Lobdells are turning to the internet, sharing their pictures and stories and relying on generosity through "crowdfunding."
GiveForward.com has raised more than $62 million for medical fundraisers and other causes. In one week, Michelene's page, HelpMich.com has raised nearly $1,200.
"You hear about people paying it forward at Starbucks and things like that and as soon as I saw GiveForward.com I thought, what a concept," Marc Lobdell said.
The PayPal account set up on PrayersForZachary.com has raised $500 so far. "It's incredible, it's amazing that people will even do it," Zachary's father Curtis Smith said.
"Most of the ones that have come in online have been from people we don't know which is amazing," Jennifer Smith said.
While online giving can make a huge impact, it's always a good idea to exercise caution with people you don't know personally. Top crowdfunding sites like GiveForward.com say they monitor medical fundraisers. If they question the legitimacy of a fundraiser, they'll shut it down and return the money.