Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Real Story

The below is a note from a friend, it is basically his adult life story.  I challenge you to read this and put yourself in this family's place.  It is indeed a tale of woe and at the end of the day, we are all one or two steps away from where this family is today.  I can't do anything about the thousands of hurting families in the USA today, but I can do something about one.  For details on how you can help, go to the end of the article.

My name is Jeff and until a couple of years ago I was living the American Dream. When I was about 30 I found my vocation in computers. I worked for 7+ years for Tandy / Radio Shack as a Computer salesman and later as a Systems Engineer. I worked hard and had an aptitude for the industry. Without taking classes or training I taught myself how to connect things. When I say connect things I mean in a physical sense as in wiring and cabling and also using software. I became fascinated with computer Operating Systems and Networking. Over the years I learned how to make dissimilar systems communicate. I became a Certified NetWare Engineer. This is a Novell professional certification.

After 7 years things began to change in the industry. It was clear that Tandy would be much less involved. Tandy would continue only at the consumer retail level in the computer industry. Around this time I met my future wife Beth. She and I married in 1992 and later that year had our first child Spencer. At the time she was still working full time for a local accounting firm. While she was pregnant with Spencer the owner of the accounting firm died. The business was sold and she maintained her position. When Spencer was about 3 months old we were putting him in a local day care and she would come to see him at lunch every day because he was still nursing at the time. She wanted to maintain that contact with him rather than having strangers give him formula.

Around the time Spencer turned 6 months old I was hired by Microsoft. I started in 1993 as a Word for Windows Support Professional making around $23,000.00 per year. It was actually a pay cut but seemed to have more future than my position at Tandy. About 2 weeks after starting at Microsoft Spencer became ill. Nothing too serious but he ran a fever for 4 or 5 days. Since he was running a fever he couldn’t go to day care. Beth stayed home with him for the entire week. I was in training at Microsoft and we felt me missing work just wasn’t an option. On Friday of that week her boss called and left a message on our answering machine that he was letting her go because she had stayed home the entire week with Spencer. About a week later we found out she was pregnant again. We made a decision then that we would tighten our belts and work hard dedicating everything to our family and my career. We would become a single income family. She would manage the home and I would work hard and do everything I could to be successful at Microsoft. We were a team.

On November 16th 1993 Jonathan was born. He wasn’t very healthy early on. He contracted Spinal Meningitis and spent over a week in the hospital. I would work all day while Beth stayed with him in the Hospital. Our parents would keep Spencer during the day. When I left work I’d go to the Hospital and stay with Jonathan. Beth would go home to be with Spencer. The next morning she’d relieve me. I’d go home – take a quick shower – and go to work. Jonathan finally got out of the Hospital on Christmas Eve that year.

As time went on things began to improve. I was building a good foundation at Microsoft. I loved my job and was totally dedicated to the company. I was VERY proud when I had an opportunity to tell someone I worked at Microsoft. It was a point of pride for me since I didn’t have a college degree. I had worked hard and developed my skills through experience. The old American Hard Work ethic seemed to be paying off for us. In 1996 my daughter Molly was born. We discovered Spencer had Epilepsy but were working hard with a Neurologist to keep his seizures under control. Overall we were a very happy family. We’d purchased our first house and I had made huge strides at Microsoft. My responsibilities increased. I wrote and delivered training and acted as a mentor to other Support Professionals. I became someone management looked to as a leader. And I was compensated quite well. My base salary increased regularly. With incentives and bonuses I was easily making a six figure salary. Beth and I paid off all debt except our mortgage. We paid our mortgage faithfully and in fact paid down on the principal with extra money sent in with each payment. In 2001 we found out Beth was pregnant again. This was an unplanned pregnancy but we considered it a blessing.

In May of 2001 we took a short trip to the beach. When we returned Beth and I went to a doctor’s appointment. Beth’s blood pressure was dangerously high. She had Pre-Eclampsia. The doctor hospitalized her that day in Gaston Memorial. My aunt was also in Gaston Memorial dying of Cancer. I would spend time with Beth and then go by to see my Aunt Nancy. Our parents helped out with the other kids quite a bit. Beth was kept in Gaston Memorial for 3 days. She was then moved to Carolinas Medical. It had become clear that she would not go full term and they wanted to try to build up the lungs of our unborn child anticipating an emergency C Section.

On June 7th my Aunt Nancy died. I came back to Gastonia from the hospital on June 8th and went to the visitation for her at the funeral home. I picked up my 3 children from my parents house to go home to try to get a little rest. Beth had now been in the hospital for about 7 days. I was exhausted. At the corner stop light with my children in the car I was hit by another car from behind. It was a minor accident but just seemed to add to the emotion. The next morning at about 4am the hospital called me to tell me they needed me to come back to the hospital. They were going to do an emergency C section. I took the children to stay with Beth’s parents and drove to CMH. When I got there I ran to the elevator. The doors closed and it moved up about 3 floors before stopping. I was trapped in the elevator with several other people. I was in a bit of a panic. We used the elevator phone to let maintenance know. I explained my situation to my fellow captives and maintenance. Thankfully we were only trapped for a few minutes.

Shortly after I arrived Beth was taken in for the emergency C section. I was in the room when our daughter Evie was born. She weighed 1lb 7oz’s and was 3 months early. She was so small her cry sounded like a kitten meow and my wedding band fit on her wrist like a loose bracelet. She was taken to Neonatal Intensive Care and Beth was kept in ICU for a while. I was moving between Beth and Evie for days. Sometimes I’d push Beth down in a wheel chair so she could see Evie. Beth had to stay in the hospital for a few more days. I’d go home every evening and take care of the other 3 kids. Then I’d leave them with our parents and go visit with Beth and Evie. After 10 days in the hospital Beth was allowed to come home. We still lived in Gastonia and Evie was in the NICU in CMC. Every day Beth would go to CMC to be with Evie while I took care of the children. I was allowed to take 4 weeks paternity leave from Microsoft. I would stay with the other 3 kids and try to keep their routine as normal as possible. Beth would come home and I would go over and spend a couple of hours in the NICU with Evie. This went on for a month. In July Gaston Memorial Hospital opened a NICU. We moved Evie to GMH and things got a lot easier. I had to go back to work but luckily our strong family support helped us get through another month of Evie in the hospital. When she came home she was a little over 3lbs. We had to buy baby doll cloths since she was so small no infant clothes would fit her.

While Beth and Evie were in the hospital in Charlotte we were told Evie would probably require a transfusion. I was told I could do a directed blood donation through the Red Cross in anticipation of this so they could use my blood. I went to the Red Cross and went through the process of a directed blood donation. When time came for Evie to have a transfusion we were told the Red Cross had found something in my blood called a Warm Antibody. This made my blood dangerous for anyone to receive so it was discarded.

When Evie came home it became apparent we would have to consider a bigger house. We had a comfortable 3 bedroom home but now had 4 children.

I started to have health problems during this time. I was having trouble breathing . We found I had Interstitial Lung Disease. I have approximately 50% of normal lung capacity. This was determined by doing an open lung biopsy. I was out of work for 6 weeks. However I used vacation and sick time and we didn’t miss ANY payments or bills during this period. I also had something called a Pseudo Tumor on the lateral muscle of my left eye. After 2 biopsies and massive steroid treatments I received radiation therapy. The radiation therapy was successful but did cause cataracts which I still have. Once again…we missed no payments and paid all bills on time.

In August of 2002 we found a new home. We made a 20% down payment and moved in. The house was $300,000.00 – definitely within our means. I actually maintained mortgage payments on both houses for a year before our old house sold. We never missed a payment and were never late.

As a bit of a background on what was to happen…when I started making a 6 figure salary we started having problems with the IRS. We’d send in our tax returns and the IRS would have us redo them for various reasons. They would claim we had put a wrong Social Security number for one of the children or some other minor issue. When we’d ask to see them they would never allow that. Our copies showed correct information every time. Or we’d have to wait months to get refunds. One year we received a letter from the IRS which said…”We have a record of having received you tax return but we can’t find it. You will have to re-file it.” This letter came months after we had sent in our return.

All of this culminated in 2005 with our having to re-file 5 years worth of Federal and State tax returns. During this time the Federal Government AND State of North Carolina garnished my wages. In order to stay afloat we were required to take out a second mortgage on our house. After all was said and done the Federal Government owed US money. We were paid some but around $30,000.00 of refunds we were told were past the time we could claim them so we’d have to sue the government to get the money. Well by this time we were financially destroyed and couldn’t afford an attorney to pursue the matter. We were behind on our mortgage and it was all we could do to simply try to get back on our feet. Beth – ironically – went back to work on a part time basis yearly as a tax preparer for H&R Block. I threw myself into my job anew. We worked with the Mortgage companies and were able to get back in good standing before foreclosure.

Around this time my mother’s health (Ann) had started deteriorating. Over the next 2 years my father (James) was a champion. He took care of my mother through one hospital stay after another. They were both retired but my dad worked as a Reporter / Sports Editor for the Banner News in Belmont, NC. He was well known in this area. He was especially well liked by the kids who had played Middle School and High School sports. He took great pleasure in giving them the spotlight. He loved kids. Mom had COPD, Diabetes and Heart Disease. Eventually in September 2007 she passed away at the age of 72 in GMH. She was the anchor for our family and it destroyed my father.

Daddy ended up having to take a small loan out on his paid off home to pay for her funeral expenses. He went back to work as the Sports Editor for the Banner News. Daddy was now 71 and still covering all the local Belmont and Mt Holly school sports. He was also the Chairman of the Board for the Carolinas Boxing Hall Of Fame. Every day on the way to work I’d call him and talk while I drove.

By this time I’d had a wonderful 15 years at Microsoft. My base pay was just over $100,000.00. I was a Technical Account Manager. I managed the support relationship for several of Microsoft’s customers. I had been very successful and in fact had received letters from virtual team members explaining how my work had improved customer relationships and business. In one case I was flown to Germany to assist with a customer in a difficult worldwide implementation of a critical piece of Microsoft software. In the end I was commended by the Global Business Manager and said to have salvaged a multi-million dollar deal.

On October 13th, 2008 my boss sent me an email and told me he wanted to meet with me that day at 3pm. His office was in Connecticut and he had flown down to take care of other business and said he wanted to have our one on one meeting in person instead of over the phone. I went into the meeting and was told that my position was being moved to Boston. This was a business decision and I was being laid off. I was given a severance package and put out the door. After 15 years of doing a job I loved and working for I company I loved I was being tossed aside. It was a business decision.

Just after this is when my health began to truly collapse. In November 2008 I contracted Pneumonia, Bronchitis and Pleurisy and spent a week in the hospital. On December 8th, 2008 my dad had a heart attack and died at the age of 72. I am the executor of my father’s estate. He was an amazing man but in the end they had spent most of their savings on health care. Still…we struggled on. Since Beth, Spencer and I have health issues we have maintained my Microsoft Health Insurance. Until the government COBRA assistance kicked in we paid $1,525.00 per month to maintain the Microsoft Health benefits. Since the government subsidy we have been paying $537.25 per month. In January it will go up to over $1,700.00 per month due since the subsidy will end and Microsoft is increasing the monthly CBRA payment by over $200 per month. I had been unable to find a fulltime job with full benefits. I had been doing consulting and contracting jobs. The most I have been able to make has been $1,000.00 in a single week.

In August I contracted Double Pneumonia. By the time I got to the hospital my Blood Oxygen level was 32%. From August 8th to August 12th – my 49th birthday – I was on a ventilator. The hospital stay lasted a week. Since coming out of the hospital I have continued to have health problems.

In September I found out I was severely Anemic. I had an additional hospital stay in September to receive 3 units of blood. The Warm Antibody found 8 years ago is related to a disorder called Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia.

On November 2nd, 2009 I had to return to the hospital with Double Pneumonia. I was there for 12 days. Since going to the hospital that morning I have been on oxygen 24x7 continuously. I am no longer able to work. Due to the amount of oxygen I need I have to take roll around tanks with me when I leave the house. Each tank lasts approximately 2 hours.

Beth has been trying to find a job over the last year. But having been out of the workforce for over 16 years other than her seasonal tax job has made it very difficult to find anything. The severance is gone. The small inheritance is gone.

On November 17th our home was auctioned and purchased by Freddie Mac. I have been visited twice by representatives from Freddie Mac to see when we will leave our home or if we would like to try to stay. I’ve informed them we have no income and are struggling just to keep the utilities on. We’re waiting to see what they are going to do.

All my life I have believed in the American Dream and the strong work ethic that made this country the greatest country in the world. Since the age of 28 I have had 2 jobs where I spent 20+ years combined and learned a trade from the ground up. I STILL believe in a strong work ethic and the ideals and dreams that made our country great. Many of my friends have wanted to know about my situation. At present this is it…

I have the following illnesses:

Interstitial Pneumonitis
Idiopathic Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
Sleep Apnea
Asthma
Allergies
Type II Diabetes
Depression
Cataracts

I am unable to work. I’ve filed for unemployment AND Disability. Since I am unable to work I cannot receive unemployment. We are a few hundred dollars over the limit to receive immediate assistance through SSI and Medicaid. I am continuing to answer questions and fill out paperwork to see if I qualify for permanent disability. If I qualify this process can take as long as 4 months. If I’m turned down on the first attempt I have no idea how long the appeals will last.

For the last month my family has been living off the charity of others. We’ve received financial assistance from my sister and Beth’s parents. We’ve also had help from local churches. We are thankful for the assistance and prayers.

As of 12-14-2009 the following bills are due or past due:

City of Gastonia - $425.99
Time Warner (Telephone service is bundled with this) - $363.00 Overdue for 2+ months.
PSNC Energy - $120.52
Merastar Auto Insurance - $416.50
Health Insurance COBRA - $537.25
Budget Storage - $125.00

We have four children - Spencer 17, Jonathan 16, Molly 13 & Evie 8.

We have ZERO income.

(By Dolley Madison - if you would like to help Jeff and his family, please send me an email at: abigailanddolley@gmail.com)

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