The parents of 18-month-old Ryan Origaen just wanted their son to have a chance. Readers of The Sun have given him that.
Readers donated more than $30,000 after reading a story in The Sun 10 days ago about Ryan's need to fly by expensive air ambulance to Texas for experimental surgery -- his only hope for a normal life.
"It's been just amazing and wonderful," said Ryan's mother, Elsa Origaen, of Silver Spring. "You don't really enjoy letting everybody know about your child's body and your money problems. But this is so beautiful. We feel that Ryan has been blessed."
Ryan was born with a severely deformed rib cage and spine. They combine to compress his left lung so that it can't inflate on its own. Since he was 3 weeks old, he's been attached by a 4-foot tube to a respirator that helps him breathe.
The only surgeon who can repair Ryan's deformity is in San Antonio. Ryan's insurance company, Aetna, agreed to pay for the operation but not the transportation. A jet-airplane ambulance with a medical team and life-support equipment costs about $16,000 round trip.
A Baltimore nonprofit charitable organization, Roads to Recovery, pledged $1,000 and then offered to collect donations to aid Ryan. Founded by Della and Mike Polk after their 9-year-old son Chris died of cancer in 1990, Roads to Recovery provides travel expenses for families whose children need lifesaving treatment.
Mr. Polk said that Sept. 30, the day after Ryan's story appeared, the mailman delivered a 6-inch stack of mail. That one day they collected $17,200. Donations ranged from $1 to -- incredibly -- $9,000. As of Friday the total was $33,850.
Mr. Polk said the money, already deposited in a separate account for Ryan, will pay for the air ambulance and the family's travel and lodging in San Antonio. Surgery is expected to be this month. The money also will go toward follow-up visits to San Antonio, if necessary, and then for medical bills not covered by insurance.
His respirator and related equipment cost $1,100 a month, which the insurance doesn't cover. Mrs. Origaen and her husband, Walter -- who both work for the U.S. Postal Service while home nurses care for their son -- can afford only $300 a month. They estimate they owe $12,000 toward use of the respirator and equipment.
Readers wanted to know why the surgeon, Dr. Robert M. Campbell, couldn't fly to Maryland or Washington to perform the surgery. Dr. Campbell's office manager explained that the federal Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the experimental surgery, requires that for now it be done only at Santa Rosa Children's Hospital in San Antonio.
Among the donations for Ryan was $220 for Roads to Recovery, which the Polks operate as volunteers from their home at 2516 Wilkens Ave. in Southwest Baltimore. "I was on a mission to provide Ryan this chance," Mr. Polk said. "But this child is just one example of all our families. We discover other children just like Ryan every single week."