After living with type 1 diabetes for a quarter-century, Beth Rifkin in the San Francisco Bay Area never thought she'd be where she is now.
It all began with the otherwise healthy 46-year-old freelance writer discovering a blister on the top of her foot one day. Then came the sudden nausea that turned into ER and hospital visits, a double-diagnosis of congestive heart failure and a dangerous bacterial infection, and ultimately a downward health spiral that's hitting every aspect of her life -- not least, her checkbook, as the medical bills began flooding in.
So in response, she turned to the world of online crowd-funding to ask for help. She launched an online campaign at a site called GoFundMe a couple of months ago (ironically, on World Diabetes Day), aiming to raise $3,000 to help offset her mounting medical debt.
"It wasn't easy at all," Beth tells us. "I don't think I've ever had to ask people for financial help like this before and it is a very uncomfortable position to be in. That's one benefit of crowd fundraising -- you don't have to ask someone directly, you can post it on Facebook and Twitter and send out emails... but it's still a tough thing to do."
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Beth says the reaction she's experienced from friends, family and strangers inside and outside the D-Community has been... well, life-changing.
"The love, kindness and generosity of everyone has inspired me to take on some challenging yet very worthwhile causes. So in addition to my mounting medical bills, this fundraiser will help me to publicly address issues regarding diabetes and heart disease, along with issues around living with chronic medical conditions in general, and also to be an example of giving and show how helping others can change the world."
Turns out Beth's story about turning to crowd-funding isn't unique, not by a longshot.
Online crowd-funding has exploded in the past several years and analysts expect the market for it to double in 2014. Everyone from entrepreneurs to struggling families and individuals are using sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise money for countless causes -- whether it's support for a non-profit effort of some sort, or paying rent, buying groceries or health supplies, or getting a costly medical procedure. Sites like GoFundMe, YouCaring, and GiveForward are just some of the many that exist, with hundreds upon hundreds of entries in so many different categories.
Just searching the term "diabetes" on any of the sites brings up hundreds of results -- specifically, 770 on GoFundMe. There's everything from fundraising for walks, runs, and other local non-profit initiatives; buying an insulin pump or D-device that insurance won't cover; helping pets with diabetes in need of care; money needed for sending kids and teens to D-camps; PWDs with type 1 and type 2 who need medicine or transplants or even have suffered scary complication consequences like amputations and vision loss. There are even campaigns for getting kids a Jerry the Bear.
All of them are heart-tugging stories. They make you want to... help!
For example, there are the stories about new diagnoses, like 7-year-old "Cupcake" in New York whose family has raised $1,190 so far to help pay for needed diabetes supplies and resources the family's just learning about. That page shares poems and personal tidbits from the little girl herself.
Or type 2 PWD Nolan Curtis in Utah, now in his 80s after three decades of living with diabetes, who's experienced complications and had to have his leg amputated. His kids started the online crowd-funding campaign, raising $2,700 to date.
Clearly, the thing about crowd-funding is that it can be very personal, and allow individuals to the spread word that they're in need of any amount of help. There are many success stories out there of how it's made a difference in people's lives, even if some questions about ethics and safety of these platforms do exist.
You really have to ask yourself why people would have to turn to what may seem like "desperate measures" with their healthcare costs... But then again, you really don't. It's the tough economic times, skyrocketing health costs and lack of adequate insurance coverage, plus the simple fact that life can really deal anyone an unexpected blow that can break your back and the bank. So really, turning to crowd-funding shouldn't be that surprising.
Beth, in California, has created the "HelpBeth" campaign page on GoFundMe and has raised more than $2,050 of her $3,000 goal so far and the campaign's open until Jan. 31, extended a month because of more new medical issues that set her back in December.
Beth got creative using the "reward" feature of the platform that allows you to give gifts and freebies to those who donate to your cause. Thanks to her professional career in journalism and marketing that also includes work for the U.S. Tennis Association, Beth has snagged a pretty impressive lineup of prizes. Depending on the amount given, her donors are eligible to receive any number of items: tickets to the 2014 U.S. Open; tennis clothing, equipment, and collectibles signed by Maria Sharapova, John McEnroe and the Bryan Brothers; music lessons, astrology readings, tennis lessons around the country; hypnotherapy sessions; custom-drawn tennis portraits; yoga classes; books donated by the authors; and gift cards for everything from coffee shops to grocery stories. Wow! This has surely helped her fund-raise.
"My belief is that gratitude includes giving as well as getting," Beth says.
We talked to Beth a little about her own story, beyond what she's shared on the GoFundMe page, and asked about her crowd-funding campaign and how the experience has been for her:
DM) When were you first diagnosed with diabetes?
BR) It was about a week after my 20th birthday. I'm 46 now, so 26 years ago. I spent about an hour in the ER having to convince the triage nurse that I was very sick (with who knew what at the time?) She was convinced I was anorexic and wouldn't take me seriously. I did weigh about 100 pounds at the time, but I was 20 years old and had probably had type 1 for about two months before finally going to the ER. So I was eating about 3,000 calories a day but still losing a ton of weight -- probably about 15 to 20 pounds over those two months. They predicted I was about 12 to 24 hours away from dying had I not been diagnosed and treated.
Wow... how did you fare with your diabetes in the years that followed?
My management over the years has been pretty good, but I have gone through some rough patches. Having diabetes is difficult, for sure. There are benefits, like it teaches you how to solve problems and deal with adversities in your life -- and it promotes a healthy lifestyle as far as food choices, exercise, etc. But continuously managing a chronic disease can be exhausting. It's also tough when you're doing everything right, yet your sugars are still off. It can really play on your overall confidence. Though, the flip side of that is that you learn to deal with failures and to get up and try again.
So true. But then something like all this happens, out of the blue...
It was all quite shocking, as I went from feeling completely fine one day to spending two weeks in the hospital. And then all of this. My medical bills are mounting, especially those connected to the hospital stay, cellulitis (bacterial skin infection) and heart failure. I was somehow able to juggle everything and get by until the cellulitis and heart failure hit. The heart failure causes extreme fatigue and takes some time to recover from, which means that I'm limited to part-time income until I am fully functioning and able to return to full-time hours. I'm a freelance writer and only get paid for work done. That's been tough. I don't want to push myself too hard and become exhausted, but on the other hand, the loss of income has been tough.
Why did you turn to GoFundMe?
I turned to GoFundMe because they provide tools that guide you through the fundraising process. I'm not a fundraiser per se so I found these tools to be extremely helpful. The dashboard, the main page of your campaign, allows donors to see how the campaign is going throughout. And GoFundMe allows you to receive however much money you raise; you don't need to meet your goal to get the donations. I found that to be especially helpful when dealing with medical bills because however much I'm able to raise can go straight to those bills.
Tells us a little more about people's reactions?
People have been so generous in both their financial and emotional support... that so many responded to me in such loving and caring ways was incredible and really helped me to get through these past couple of months. A friend said to me the other day, "Giving is a way of life and a choice you make." I couldn't have said it better! Small acts of giving, whether that be monetary, or a specific action or just being there for someone, can make all the difference in the world to the person in need -- it certainly has for me. The support of others has really kept me going and helped me to remain positive as I deal with all of this.
I've had no negative feedback at all. People have been very supportive. Of course, not everyone is able to help but overall the response has been positive.
You've raised more than two-thirds of your goal to date -- how's that helped?
I've been able to make some payments to my medical bills so that I don't get too far behind on those. Donors have also very generously helped me with some housing costs and one very giving person helped me with a computer, which I desperately needed for work. The donors who gave the prizes (or rewards) played a big part in bringing the whole campaign together and making it possible. You don't necessarily need rewards to do crowd fundraising, but I liked the idea of giving back.
Our hearts of course break just hearing how medical disasters can bring anyone down -- and those in our D-Community especially hit home. We sure hope these crowd-funding tools can help alleviate people's suffering. They surely seem to alleviate the pain of fundraising itself for those in need who hope to get the word out.