Crowdfunding Medical Expenses: A Tale of Two Families

The Wheatleys and the Wilkinsons both have young children with rare illnesses, but only one found success with crowdfunding.
7:03 | 08/04/15

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Transcript for Crowdfunding Medical Expenses: A Tale of Two Families
families facing out-of-control medical costs turning to the internet for help and having very different experiences with their crowd funding efforts. ABC's Neil Karlinsky there with parents struggling to come up with the funds they need and what it takes to make a cause go viral. Reporter: Alicia Wheatley is a mom on a mission. Prayers, put it on your social media. Reporter: Pounding the pavement near her home in Washington. I have a daughter. She is very young. Reporter: Desperate to raise money to pay for her daughter's health care. She needs eye surgery. Reporter: Sheila is 2 years old and suffering from amblioplia, an eye disorder, without surgery could go blind in her right eye. A campaign for her -- Reporter: Alicia helps old-fashioned fliers will get the word out about her newest approach to raise money an online crowd funding campaign on giveforward.com. Is it hard, you are going up to people, strangers, essentially asking them for money? It is hard. But at the same time I know what I am doing it for. So my pride and my, you know, I can't let that get in the way. Come get the ball. Reporter: While they wait for surgery Sheila wears this eye patch. Which eye? Eye. Reporter: A temporary solution. Oh, so pretty. The stress of it is enough to drive anyone mad. The procedures and the amounts that they cost and all -- it's, it's not right. Reporter: Ray's military job was unexpectedly cut and their health insurance will run out in a matter of months. And what their future insurance will cover is uncertain. Now we R in a are in a position we didn't anticipate. We've done everything right to get where we are. We still can't afford health care. Reporter: The family set a crowd funding goal of $10,000. Will you reach your goal? I think we will. If we don't. We'll come close to it. Reporter: With medical bills the leading cause of bankruptcy in America, Wheatley family one of many going on line for help. They have 14,000 medical fundraisers. Most they say are people who actually have insurance like Patrick and Kristin Wilkenson of San Francisco. Although our insurance is absolutely amazing and covered the majority of our son's treatment plan, the ongoing cost of his disease is unknown at this point. Reporter: They have raised more than $50,000 on giveforward to care for their 4-month-old son Phoenix. You are doing so good, sweetheart. Reporter: Phoenix needs a bone marrow transplant. The hardest part, you feel helpless. As parent. You are supposed to protect your child. Reporter: Christen works for air B & B, her son's fund was sent worldwide, and took off from there raise dla$20,000 in 24 hours. Gives you faith in humanity again, you know? It was really unbelievable. Reporter: Phoenix's treatment is all consuming. This is our home. Yeah. Reporter: They have been living, eating and sleeping here in the hospital for months. Paying for all the Normal things in life is really hard when you are not necessarily getting a paycheck. Reporter: With chemotherapy and upcoming transplant it is a long and costly road ahead for the Wilkenson's. Medical crowd funding has been successful for a lot of people. An estimated $2.7 billion raised in 2012. That number is only going up. But there have been cases of crowd funding fraud. And with federal regulations still evolving, experts say do your research so the right family gets your donation. Back in Tacoma, Sheila's fund raiser isn't going as well as they had hoped. About a month in, it only raised $610. Did you feel like when you started this, you know I am going to wake up in a couple days check the website and bam. I am going to be there? I thought that people would come together. And that people would look at this little girl on all of the pictures, you know, like, like, like, like. I'm like, if they know this. They will definitely, $10, $20. It wasn't like that. It has not been like that at all. At all. Reporter: Unlike the Wilkenson's, the Wheatley's social network is small. For the most part not very wealthy. I don't have that many friend on Facebook that is over 30 that have established saving accounts and all that. Reporter: Social media is like a foreign language to Alicia though she turns to her media savvy cousin for advice. When I go on her little Twitter, I don't even know how to use Twitter in all honesty. I don't use Twitter. Reporter: To pull heart strings, he suggests creating a hash tag. Eyes for Sheila. Reporter: Thinking of ways to help her brand this basically? Yes, definitely. She doesn't have a strong social media presence so, you have to tap into other people's social media presence. Reporter: Early morning on the day of Sheila's surgery her parents are still trying to get the word out. Okay. We are going to make her sign, #eyesforsheila. Very good. Reporter: After a long day at the hospital, Sheila is recovering. It went well. The doctor said there was no complications. The surgery was a success. And we are just happy that she is okay. She is still sleeping. This might be the only surgery, but there also could be multiple other surgeries. Reporter: After six months of this campaign on giveforward they raised $1,390. A far cry from their $10,000 goal. Social media is not conducive for every socioeconomic walk of life. For us it has been a struggle. Reporter: But they're not giving up. They have since started a new campaign on youcaring.com. Look at the little toes. Reporter: Back in San Francisco, baby Phoenix got his long-awaited bone marrow transplant and is finally home. Just being outside in the sun with the wind and seeing his reaction to birds and people and cars, it's incredible. Reporter: Medical crowd funding is not a magic bullet. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention for these families and thousand like them. The need is only growing. Next, why the hottest

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