by Jen Lynds
Nearly three years ago, the Guerrette Family of Mars Hill set out on what they thought would be a lengthy journey.
Ryan and Jamie Guerrette’s youngest daughter, Bobbi, who was 3 at the time, had been born with bilateral microtia with atresia. The condition is evident at birth and essentially means she was born without ears. Bobbi had to wear a bone anchored hearing aid and could not swim, tumble or wear sunglasses or earrings because of the condition or out of fear of damaging the hearing aid.
The couple grew hopeful when they learned that surgeons at the California Ear Institute could create ears, ear canals and eardrums for Bobbi. She would be able to hear and could be more active.
Their excitement diminished a bit, however, when they heard the $100,000 price tag.
The Guerrette’s had health insurance, but it would not pay for the full cost of both surgeries or help them with expenses incurred in getting to and from California and remaining there while Bobbi underwent treatment. Insurance would pay for 70 percent of the cost, but since the institute does not bill insurance, the family had to pay for the procedures upfront.
Undaunted, they created Bobbi’s Build An Ear, a foundation to help them raise money for Bobbi’s surgery. Family and friends started holding fundraisers and selling T-shirts and planned more events. Jamie Guerrette said that if they managed to raise more than they needed, they would pay it forward to help others. But, $100,000? She thought that it would take them a few years to raise that much.
She thought wrong.
Just before Christmas 2009, an anonymous donor offered to pay the entire cost of surgery to create new ears for the little girl. Bobbi now has two working ears and loves wearing sunglasses, earrings and taking part in gymnastics class.
The family also has made good on their promise, growing Bobbi’s Build An Ear into an organization that has helped nearly 100 families who have children with medical needs. The money has financed medical or adaptive equipment not covered by insurance, according to Jamie Guerrette, but the bulk of it has gone toward helping families with travel costs to get medical care.
The latest fundraiser will be this Sunday, Aug. 5, as the foundation puts on its third annual motorcycle ride, a 75 mile trek through scenic central Aroostook. The route takes motorists through Mars Hill, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Limestone, Caribou and Presque Isle, and Guerrette said earlier this week that they are expecting between 75 and 100 bikers. Registration for the bike ride begins at Big Rock in Mars Hill at 11 a.m. and donations will be accepted in lieu of an entrance fee. A pig roast and bean dinner will be held at 2 p.m. at the Mars Hill Recreation Center. The cost is $5. The first 100 registrants receive free BBAE pins. The foundation also expects to receive a donation from Jay Forbes, a race car driver who helped raise money for BBAE this past spring.
With the Guerrette’s personal journal pretty much over, the foundation continues to assist other families with medically needy children as they navigate their own.